Hats off to our world class professionals
It is easy, in socially volatile and corruption-riddled SA, to sink into pessimism. Fortunately, leading South Africans constantly help us to defy the gloom. Once in a while something wonderful happens that warms the heart and gives us all hope. Such was the case with the liver transplant from an HIV-positive mother to her HIV-negative baby, at the Wits University Donald Gordon Medical Centre.
The operation was performed a year ago, but only revealed this month, and both mother and child have recovered. The resilient spirit and hard work of our professionals are what make such achievements possible. Particularly in the face of great adversity, proud and hardy South Africans dig deep and solve the most complicated, seemingly insurmountable problems.
In this case, the 13-month-old child had been languishing on a waiting list for a liver transplant for at least six months while the mother was a perfect match and willing to donate part of her liver to save her child. In fact, she begged the medical team to save her child, Jean Botha, the doctor who led the team, said. Except her liver was infected with HIV, presenting an ethical, moral and medical dilemma. Allow the child to die while vainly waiting for a suitable donor, or risk infecting the child with HIV while transplanting the mother’s infected liver? While it is not illegal in SA to knowingly transplant an infected organ, traditionally this is not done. But the child’s deteriorating condition, and the mother’s insistence, forced the medical team to break tradition and proceed with the transplant. As a precaution, the team administered preventive antiretrovirals (ARVs) ahead of the operation, and continued to administer post-exposure ARVs afterwards.
The procedure was more than just a success. It was close to a miracle. The resilient spirit and hard work of our professionals are what make such achievements possible. The child has been HIV-negative for a year now. Nowhere else has this been achieved.
The achievement of these professionals draws from that deep tradition of South Africans who push against all the odds, and never waver in the face of adversity – and of the excellence that makes this country’s medical practitioners the envy of the world.
Even before the days of Chris Barnard, who successfully conducted the first human heart transplant, our medics were highly regarded. Our major public hospitals served as training grounds for specialists from all over. Even as our hospitals collapse under the weight of government maladministration, the worldclass training and resilience of our nurses and other medical specialists make them the backbone of health services far and wide.
It’s not just medicine: SA engineers worked on the mine rescue operation in Chile; our soldiers underpinned peacekeeping operations in the DRC; judge Richard Goldstone’s investigative work on violence in SA earned him the privilege of being the first prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, then Rwanda. Our schools have produced brilliant business minds, who have gone on to establish such leading global companies as Tesla, Glencore and BHP Billiton.
The corruption of the government has not diminished this never-say-die spirit of our professionals. I take my hat off to them.