GRATEFUL PAIR: Knee transplant patient Johanna Blaauw, 58. In the background is 67-year-old Julia Witbooi, who had a knee replacement.
GRATEFUL PAIR: Knee transplant patient Johanna Blaauw, 58. In the background is 67-year-old Julia Witbooi, who had a knee replacement.
NELSON Mandela International Day, which will be celebrated on the former statesman's birthday on July 18, is synonymous with giving.

For Julia Witbooi, 67, of Montana outside Cape Town, the day will be more meaningful after she received free hip surgery thanks to a Mandela Day initiative that will see 67 public sector patients in the Western Cape receiving a series of life-changing surgeries for free.

The surgeries, which include cataract and arthroplasty, otherwise known as hip and knee replacement surgeries, are being offered this month by the provincial Department of Health in partnership with the private sector and some NGOs at a cost of almost R1million.

The initiative, for which Independent Media is a media partner, will see 40 patients receive free cataract surgery and 27 people getting joint operations from public hospitals in the province.

These patients who would ordinarily have to wait up to two years for surgery, owing to long waiting lists in the public sector, will now get these life-changing operations within a month.

Although R750000 has been raised for this initiative so far, the department still needs an additional R150000 to make all 67 operations possible.

It took Witbooi more than eight years of immobility before she could get the operation after she was diagnosed with arthritis, which resulted in deterioration of her hip bone.

Arthritis is characterised by the inflammation of the joint lining, which then damages both cartilage and bone. Rheumatoid arthritis, which is common in women, affects the same joints on both sides of the body. Hands, wrists, feet, knees, ankles, shoulders and elbows can be affected.

Speaking to Independent Media just before her surgery, an elated Witbooi said when she was approached by staff at Tygerberg Hospital recently telling her about the news that she was going to receive free surgery, this grandmother was “overjoyed when I heard the good news”.

“I just had my appointment with the doctor and I was told I had to wait till June 2018 to get my operation. So when I heard that my operation was being moved to this month it was really a pleasant surprise and a blessing,” she said.

After years of working as a seamstress for a Cape Town textile company, Witbooi confesses that living with arthritis made her work extra difficult and limited her mobility. “I’m a hard worker by nature, I hate sitting and doing nothing it feels like a waste of time. And for the past 10 years, part of me felt like my life was wasted because I spent most of the time just sitting because of arthritis.”

Witbooi describes herself as creative and enjoys knitting, beading and sewing. She said the diseases negatively affected her job as a seamstress. “I loved my job. I got opportunities to meet a lot of famous people. Among them were Samuel L Jackson and Tom Cruise, which was and is still a big deal for me.”

In 2010 Witbooi said she had to give up on her job as she could not sit for a long time. She confesses that her hip problems came as a double whammy for her after her own mother broke her hip as well. “My mother fell and she broke her hip. Unfortunately, she didn’t get a replacement and was constantly complaining about pain. The saddest part of it was when she needed my help and I couldn’t get to her because I was also in pain from my own hip.”

After the surgery, Witbooi hopes to go back to being her active self.

Johanna Blaauw, 58, from Eerste River, says living with arthritis has led to the deterioration of her knee. She admits that after she had been on the waiting list for so long she had given up on getting knee replacement surgery. “I told myself that I can’t live with sadness every day. If it (surgery) happens, then so be it. If it didn’t then the least I could do was to go through the pain with happiness and contentment.”

Blaauw, who had surgery in the past two weeks, said this was her second operation to be done as a result of arthritis.

The first one was done on her left foot in August last year.

“I thought I would have to wait for years just like I did with my first operation. I'm so grateful to all the doctors and donors for this life-changing surgery. It didn’t just help me alone, but it helped my whole family,” she said.

One of the private funders that has contributed towards the project so far is the Mediclinic hospital group, which has donated R50000 and offered to perform additional cataract surgery at Milnerton Mediclinic.

Organisations such as the Ackerman Foundation, Medmetrics, Smith and Nephew, The Cape Joint Trust, and the two joint sisters, Nicci and Ruth Annette, have also contributed.

To donate towards the project you can transfer funds to the Groote Schuur Hospital Facilities board account:

First National Bank

Account number: 62478395306

Cheque Account, and a swift code: FIRNZAJJ

Reference with #Mandela67#

For more information go to Groote Schuur Hospital Board’s website: https://www.gshfb.co.za/donate-page