Per­form­ing car­diac mir­a­cles since 1968

77-year-old doc­tor has a pas­sion for sav­ing lives, writes Nabeelah Shaikh

Sunday Tribune - - NEWS&VIEWS -

WHILE many peo­ple his age would be long into re­tire­ment, world-renowned heart sur­geon Pro­fes­sor Rob Kins­ley, 77, is still per­form­ing mir­a­cles on the op­er­at­ing ta­ble.

Dur­ban’s Kins­ley, who pi­o­neered pae­di­atric car­diac surgery, has per­formed more than 15 000 open heart surg­eries dur­ing his dec­o­rated ca­reer.

He is now launch­ing a foun­da­tion to save the lives of African chil­dren born with con­gen­i­tal heart de­fects who do not have ac­cess to med­i­cal aid.

Con­gen­i­tal heart de­fects arise from prob­lems with the struc­ture of the heart that are present at birth.

After 50 years of heart surgery, Kins­ley said his life’s pur­pose would not be ful­filled if he did not leave be­hind a legacy.

Kings­ley is ex­pected to launch the Chil­dren’s Car­diac Foun­da­tion of Africa in as­so­ci­a­tion with Len­med ethek­wini Hos­pi­tal and Heart Cen­tre at a func­tion to be held in his hon­our at the Oys­ter Box Ho­tel in umh­langa on Wed­nes­day.

Kins­ley said there were thou­sands of chil­dren in Kwazulu-natal, born with con­gen­i­tal heart de­fects who could not af­ford pri­vate health care and were also un­able to get the nec­es­sary treat­ment at state hos­pi­tals due to a se­ri­ous skills short­age.

“It is im­per­a­tive that a foun­da­tion be formed to help these lit­tle pa­tients. The Inkosi Al­bert Luthuli Cen­tral hos­pi­tal has a crit­i­cal back­log of pae­di­atric car­diac pa­tients wait­ing to re­ceive treat­ment. There is a long wait­ing list and that wait­ing will po­ten­tially be­come a death list if noth­ing is done,” said Kings­ley. “My vi­sion is to help save as many lives as I can, while I am still able to.”

He said he of­ten re­ceived re­quests from all over Africa re­gard­ing chil­dren who des­per­ately needed treat­ment and the long-term vi­sion of the foun­da­tion was to ex­tend life-sav­ing heart surgery to them.

“The plan is to start in Dur­ban with the help of the ethek­wini Hos­pi­tal and Heart Cen­tre and then look at how we can help with cases across Africa.”

Kins­ley said in ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing crit­i­cal heart surgery to chil­dren not cov­ered by med­i­cal aid, the foun­da­tion aimed to pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties to doc­tors across Africa to come to Kwazulu-natal, be trained here and go back to their home coun­tries with the skills to per­form car­diac surgery.

Kins­ley’s ca­reer as a heart sur­geon Pro­fes­sor Rob Kins­ley and ethek­wini Hos­pi­tal and Heart Cen­tre man­ager Niresh Bechan are ex­cited about the launch of the Chil­dren’s Car­diac Foun­da­tion of Africa on Wed­nes­day.

be­gan in 1968, a year after Dr Chris­ti­aan Barnard con­ducted the world’s first hu­man heart trans­plant at the Groote Schuur hos­pi­tal. He said this event in­spired him to also be­come a pioneer in the field of heart surgery.

Kins­ley took a par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in pae­di­atric heart surgery in the 1970s, after spend­ing two years study­ing at the Mayo Clinic in Min­nesota, in the US. The clinic was

the only place in the world that per­formed com­plex con­gen­i­tal heart dis­ease op­er­a­tions at the time.

“Dur­ing my time there, I saw chil­dren who were blue in colour come in, des­per­ate for help. Watch­ing their lives be­ing saved after re­ceiv­ing treat­ment re­ally made me want to pur­sue pae­di­atric car­diac surgery,” said Kings­ley.

In 1978, Kins­ley made head­lines world­wide when he per­formed a world first heart surgery on baby Jac­ques Nagel, who was born with an ex­tremely rare con­di­tion – the blood from his lungs had been drain­ing to his liver in­stead of his heart.

Nagel was sub­se­quently named “the boy with the heart of an ox”. Kins­ley used bovine tis­sue to en­large the heart of Nagel, who was only 18 months old at the time.

“Through the years, pae­di­atric heart surgery has evolved and so much has changed. From hav­ing to per­form del­i­cate pro­ce­dures with lim­ited re­sources, we are now able to use state of the art equip­ment to per­form surgery,” said Kings­ley.

“Much of this equip­ment is avail­able at the ethek­wini Heart Hos­pi­tal and that’s one of the rea­sons why the board has been fully sup­port­ive of the foun­da­tion,” said Kins­ley.

His pas­sion for his work sees him main­tain re­la­tion­ships with many pa­tients, long after they have re­cov­ered.

One such pa­tient, Andrew Lake, is now an an­nual Dusi Ca­noe Marathon par­tic­i­pant from Dur­ban North. He was oper­ated on by Kin­sely in 2016.

“My car­diac sur­geon rec­om­mended Dr Kins­ley be­cause he was the only one that would have the ex­per­tise to do the op­er­a­tion I re­quired,” said Lake.

At the launch of the Chil­dren’s Car­diac Foun­da­tion of South Africa on Wed­nes­day, Lake and sev­eral other of Kins­ley’s for­mer pa­tients are ex­pected to share their sto­ries on the how heart surg­eries, per­formed by Kings­ley, en­abled them to live suc­cess­ful lives de­spite hav­ing once suf­fered se­ri­ous heart de­fects.

Peo­ple who want to sup­port the de­vel­op­ment of Chil­dren’s Car­diac Foun­da­tion of Africa can con­tact nbechan@ehhc.co.za.

Dr Dar­shan Reddy and Pro­fes­sor Rob Kins­ley with 2-and-a-half-year-old Lubanzi Ndlovu, who un­der­went heart surgery at the ethek­wini Hos­pi­tal and Heart Cen­tre.

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