67 needy patients get free surgery
TODAY people around the world will be getting their hands dirty, dedicating at least 67 minutes of the their time helping others and giving back to their communities in honour of Nelson Mandela, who spent most of his life helping others.
It was in 2009 – the day Nelson Mandela was born – that the UN asked individuals around the world to mark Nelson Mandela International Day by making a difference in their communities. For 67 years the former statesman devoted his life to the service of humanity – as a human rights lawyer, a prisoner of conscience, an international peacemaker before he was elected the first president of a democratic South Africa in 1994.
One South African who has dedicated more than 67 minutes of his time helping others is Dr Paul Rowe – the head of general specialist services for orthopaedics in the Western Cape Department of Health.
He is one of the medics who spearheaded the Nelson Mandela Day surgery initiative – a series of surgeries offered by the department that saw 67 destitute public sector patients receiving life-changing surgery for free.
The initiative, which Independent Media is part of, saw 40 patients receiving free cataract surgeries and 27 patients receiving athroplasty – otherwise known as hip and knee joint surgeries – between June and July.
Ordinarily, these patients would have to wait for up to two years or more for such surgeries due to the long waiting list of elective surgeries in the public sector.
Rowe explains why he became part of this worthy initiative: Who are you? I am an orthopaedic surgeon working in the public sector in Cape Town. I’ve been working there for almost 20 years. Currently, I’m the head of general specialist service for orthopaedics in the Western Cape. Why did you become a doctor? It’s funny, I actually wanted to be a carpenter. I’ve always been physical and I always wanted to build things and use my hands. But my family said that I should go to university. So, before I went to medical school I used to do a lot of carpentry work, that was my hobby.
I studied medicine because I needed to study, it was not a passion of mine. I discovered orthopaedics which made a lot of sense to me. It required drills, tools and plates, so I knew I found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
How is a day in the life of a surgeon?
We start at 7am, with ward rounds and see all our current ward patients and any new admissions from the previous evening. We start planning for surgeries or discharge of patients, and hopefully minimise any potential complications.
Then at 8am we either attend a clinic to see outpatients and continue patient management, or we spend the day in theatre operating and fixing the fractures, performing joint replacements or reconstructing ligaments and muscle attachments.
The day ends with another short ward round to see those patients who have had their surgery and check up on the progress of everyone else. We go home at about 6pm.
Why are you interested in public health?
I come from a background with a belief that all people should be given a chance, treated equally and with respect, regardless of their station in life; and that the overall “wellness” of the population is more important than that of the individual.
For me, this was an easy decision: the state sector is under serviced, with fewer doctors than the private sector, so the decision on where I can add value to the overall “wellness” of the population is through the state sector.
Beyond that is the belief that “hard work never killed anyone”, and so I have tried to do what I can to help create an environment that enables us all to deliver world-class orthopaedics to as many people in the population as possible.
Senior management in the Western Cape takes a similar view and works with us to create this enabling environment.
Being a doctor in the 1990s compared to now?
Now the service is gradually being overrun by the sheer volume of patients, and I hope that steps are being taken to cope with this increase.The technology and our understanding of medicine are just growing incredibly fast. So modern doctors have a better understanding of diseases and better investigations and treatments than in the 1990s.
What is your role in the Mandela Day project?
My role in the Mandela Day surgery initiative, has been to assist in co-ordinating the day, in getting donations in the form of the actual joints that are implanted and funds to pay for the nursing staff. I have been the link person to all the other surgeons in the system, to enable them to perform the surgery, and have been the back-up surgeon as well. How do you see initiatives such as Mandela Day in empowering the community?
Days like Mandela Day offer us hope that despite the incredibly long waiting lists we can still offer people surgery to relieve their pain and maintain their mobility. Any initiative to get more patients off our waiting lists is welcome by everyone.
To donate towards the project you can transfer funds to the the Groote Schuur Hospital Facilities Board Account: First National Bank Account number: 62478395306 Cheque Account, and a swift code: FIRNZAJJ Reference with #Mandela67# Visit Groote Schuur Hospital Board’s website: https://www.gshfb. co.za/donate-page
DRIVING THE INITIATIVE: Dr Paul Rowe from Victoria Hospital is head of general specialist services for orthopaedics.