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North Durban hospital changes lives through life-saving surgeries

The public healthcare system is inundated with the need for heart surgeries, and one of The Children’s Cardiac Foundation of Africa’s purposes is to alleviate the bottleneck that Albert Luthuli Hospital faces.

TEAMWORK really did make the dream work for three children with congenital heart disease who had been on a waiting list for surgery.

Two of the three children were recovering at Lenmed Ethekwini Hospital and Heart Centre last week while the remaining little patient was scheduled for surgery on Tuesday (November 28).

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The organisations responsible for changing the lives of these children are the Angel Network and the hospital’s very own non-profit organisation, The Children’s Cardiac Foundation of Africa. The purpose of the organisation is to save lives and improve the health of children with congenital heart disease in Africa.

The children’s surgeries were made possible through an anonymous donor who contacted Angel Network Durban with a R1-million sponsorship. Their only request was that it be utilised for life-saving surgeries for children in South Africa.

Anonymous donor

Speaking to Northglen News, Tanya Altshuler said she and co-volunteers, Rachel Maehler and Rachel Kinloch, immediately got to work following the sponsorship to find organisations that dealt with children born with life-threatening heart issues.

“It was quite an educational experience for us as we had no idea that 4 500 children in South Africa are currently waiting for heart surgery. About 500 of these children are on a list at Albert Luthuli Hospital here in Durban,” said Altshuler.

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Maehler said that they were put in touch with Umduduzi, an organisation that brings relevant care and relief from discomfort and pain to children diagnosed with a life-threatening or life-limiting illness within KZN. They, in turn, led them to The Children’s Cardiac Foundation of Africa.

“The Children’s Cardiac Foundation of Africa already works with Albert Luthuli Hospital, so all the arrangements were made with the patients and their families through them,” she said.


Four-year-old Olwethu Ntshangase was born with an atrial septal defect – a hole in his heart. His mother, Nthando, moved with him from Hluhluwe to Durban so he could receive treatment at Albert Luthuli Hospital.

“Olwethu was always very active, but I noticed his heart would beat very fast, he wasn’t gaining weight and he would sweat a lot. As a mother, I knew something was wrong, but people always told me that he was fine because he was always playing,” she said.

He was diagnosed at the beginning of November, but Nthando never thought the day would come this quickly for her son to receive surgery.

“I was so happy when I was told that my boy was going to have the operation. I had mixed emotions at first, but after the doctors explained everything to me, I felt at ease. I am so thankful for the doctors, the hospitals and the Angel Network for making this possible,” said Nthando.

Rachel Maehler, Angel Network; mom Nthando Ntshangase; patient Olwethu Ntshangase; Lenmed Ethekwini Hospital and Heart Centre CEO, Niresh Bechan; Tanya Altshuler, Angel Network, and unit manager Christina Naidu.

The second patient, five-year-old Wandile Memela, was brought to Lenmed Ethekwini Hospital and Heart Centre in the nick of time as his condition worsened after being admitted.

He was born with a Tetralogy of Fallot, a condition where there is low oxygen flow and too little blood being pumped into the lungs.

His mom, Hloniphile, was told at several clinic visits that the shortness of breath her son was experiencing was asthma, but she, too, said that her motherly instinct had told her otherwise.

“We only got a proper diagnosis at Albert Luthuli in November. Wandile was getting sick and tired often. He was so tired that he couldn’t even play like a normal child would at his age. I am so grateful to all involved in making his surgery a success. I can’t wait to go home with a healthy child,” she said.

Team of doctors

Dr Darshan Reddy, a cardiothoracic surgeon who specialises in paediatric cardio surgery, is one of five in the country in this field. He is on the panel of advisors at The Children’s Cardiac Foundation of Africa, along with cardiothoracic surgeon Prof Robin Kinsley and paediatric cardiologist, Dr Himal Dama.

Reddy explained to Northglen News that the public healthcare system is inundated with surgeries of this nature and that one of the foundation’s purposes is to alleviate the bottleneck Albert Luthuli Hospital faces.

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“I operate on patients at the Albert Luthuli Hospital weekly to try to reduce the number of cases, however, more babies are born with congenital heart diseases, which pushes the numbers up again. Through sponsorship from corporate or NPOs, The Children’s Cardiac Foundation of Africa brings patients from Albert Luthuli Hospital to Lenmed Ethekwini Hospital and Heart Centre to undergo surgery. If the sponsorship does not cover the entire cost of the operation, Lenmed covers the shortfall,” said Reddy.

He added that these life-saving operations will enable Olwethu and Wandile to lead full and healthy lives and enable them to grow up and become productive members of society.

“They won’t need any other surgeries following this and will go for check-ups at Albert Luthuli Hospital,” he added.

Milestone beckons

Lenmed Ethekwini Hospital and Heart Centre CEO, Niresh Bechan, said the foundation is close to reaching its 100th patient milestone. He also sits on the foundation’s fundraising committee.

“We receive funding for about six cases a month, but we want to do more. We are the only hospital in KZN that offers paediatric cardiac surgery; it’s a very specialised field. We are always looking for sponsorship to save more young lives,” he said.

Cases are chosen by an ethics committee comprised of doctors from Albert Luthuli and Ethekweni Hospital and Heart Centre, and these cases also come from Botswana, Swaziland, Mozambique, Ghana and Nigeria, where paediatric cardiac care doesn’t exist.

“We also offer a training programme to medical professionals in South Africa and Africa that focuses on paediatric cardiac care, either free of charge or at significantly subsidised rates,” he said.

For more information about The Children’s Cardiac Foundation of Africa, visit https://tccfa.org/


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