The gift of sight

Posted on 29 October 2019

In a first for the new hospital, Mediclinic Stellenbosch Day Clinic collaborated with the Western Cape Department of Health and Paarl Hospital to provide pro bono cataract surgery for 22 patients currently on the public hospital’s waiting list.

“Seeing a person smile the next day – and to be able to perform their everyday tasks with crystal-clear vision – makes me love my job. I’ll definitely do it again.”

In 2017, Dr Steve Steyn was the ophthalmic surgeon who helped perform 22 pro bono cataract surgeries at Mediclinic Welkom. This was part of Mediclinic’s ongoing collaboration with the public sector to assist in alleviating the burden of long surgery waiting lists at some of South Africa’s busiest state hospitals.

Today, he made good on his promise to do it all over again.

Twenty patients from Paarl Hospital, identified by their attending doctor as candidates for cataract surgery, were admitted to Mediclinic Stellenbosch Day Clinic. Here, they were treated in the new day clinic’s surgical theatre by Dr Steve Steyn, assisted by Dr Auret Lochner and Dr Riaan Murray from Stellenbosch Anaesthetists.

“We believe strongly in sharing the expertise and capacity that we have available with the public sector,” says Gale Shabangu, Chief Transformation Executive: Mediclinic Southern Africa. “Our doctors have been highly enthusiastic about joining the partnership and we have seen over 350 patients being assisted through various surgeries over the past three years.”

This time, public-sector patients will be given the true gift of restored sight.

“Many of the patients receiving surgery today will be back early next year to undergo a second round of surgeries to remove cataracts forming on the other eye,” says Shabangu. “This means their quality of life will be fully restored, which is reward enough for our team.”

Carol van Zyl, Hospital General Manager: Mediclinic Stellenbosch, says the day clinic staff are keen to showcase their new facility. “We opened the new hospital in June this year, and we have not yet had the opportunity to participate in these pro bono surgeries. We are excited to take part as cataract surgery is a procedure suited to the streamlined environment we provide here, and our nurses are keen to deliver the personal touch to all our patients.”

“These patients may be elderly, but that does not mean they are retired,” says Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, Western Cape Minister of Health. “They are breadwinners and primary caregivers. A lot of the time they are looking after children or grandchildren. So if their eyesight is poor, this means that they cannot read or drive – but it has a wide-ranging negative impact on their entire family, and the whole community.”

The principle of a day clinic within the Mediclinic continuum of care is simple: the facility offers a streamlined approach to minor, pre-planned surgeries – such as tonsillectomies, scopes and other less invasive procedures – that usually require a shorter recovery time. Because admission times are based on expected time in theatre, patients’ waiting times are typically shorter, and a simplified process overall also results in a leaner expected cost.

As the day clinic is co-located at Mediclinic Stellenbosch, with its full range of acute care capabilities, these benefits are combined with the same, high standard of care.

Dr Steyn says his motivation to participate in these pro bono projects is simple: “My skills are being used to restore others’ quality of life and open opportunities that were closed due to their weakened eyesight. I see the impact on my patients almost immediately.”

Shabangu says these partnerships with local departments of health are designed for the benefit of the patient. “Mediclinic wants to assist in creating a workable solution for the future. We want to understand how we can make the care process a streamlined one for the patient, and to make the process of receiving treatment as easy and efficient as possible.”

Published in CSI