Johannesburg - “They killed my child.” These were the pained words of a Germiston father whose son had to be taken off life support on Wednesday evening after he was declared brain dead by two surgeons following a medical circumcision operation a week ago.
Reggie Mokalapa, 39, took his four-year-old son, Gugulethu, to Medicross Germiston for what doctors had assured him would be a “less than two-hour” procedure last Tuesday.
“We arrived just after 7am on Tuesday; nurses gave him a sort of oral anaesthetic and put a nebuliser over his nose. The sister said that for him not to be scared, his mother should be with him until he dozed off and would go with him to the theatre,” he said.
Mokalapa went to wait outside in their car and, minutes later, his wife Wilhemina joined him.
“She went back inside to get something to drink, and a few minutes later, she came back and told me he was out of theatre,” he said, touching a framed photograph of Gugulethu.
Mokalapa’s wife touched their son and tried to open his eyelids – but he was still anaesthetised, nurses said, and the couple were assured he would wake up shortly as the medication would wear off.
An hour later, Wilhemina asked the sister on duty to wake their son as Mokalapa needed to get to work.
“It was at that point they realised he wasn’t breathing,” Mokalapa said.
“His heart had stopped.
“It took them a while to resuscitate him, around 10 to 15 minutes, but eventually his heart started beating again.”
Gugulethu was then transferred to Netcare Sunward Park Hospital, where the attending doctor expressed extreme concern over his condition.
“She recommended we take him to Netcare Garden City Hospital and requested immediate authorisation to airlift him there. Eventually, we used an ambulance and he was admitted to the paediatric ICU,” said Mokalapa.
The hospital’s intensive care specialist and paediatrician, Dr Miles Bartlett, advised Mokalapa that there was a possibility of brain injury and, in such a case, doctors needed to cool Gugulethu’s body so that if there was any injury to the brain, it did not spread further.
“They did that over four days, and on the fourth day, they started warming him up.
What was concerning for the doctors was that his eyes were dilated and he wasn’t responding in any way,” said Mokalapa, his voice trailing off.
On Sunday, monitors showed that Gugulethu’s brain was not responding, and on Monday he was declared brain dead.
On Wednesday, a second doctor confirmed that Gugulethu was brain dead and the family elected for doctors to take him off life support.
“We are always advised to circumcise our children young, and we did this so that he’d be okay in future. Unfortunately, we took him to a slaughterhouse,” said Mokalapa.
He added that all he wanted from Medicross was acknowledgement of what they did wrong.
“Obviously something went wrong… someone didn’t follow the correct protocol. Another child shouldn’t die of what I perceive as negligence on their part.”
Sitting on Gugulethu’s bed covered with a blue racing-car duvet, Mokalapa described his son, who he affectionately called “Boy-Boy”, as “the most loving child”.
“For a boy, he loved touching and hugging… he was very playful. It’s still so unbelievable.”
Medicross director Dr Oelie van Schalkwyk on Thursday said the doctors and staff at the Germiston centre were “devastated” by what happened to Gugulethu.
“Gugulethu was admitted to Netcare Garden City Hospital after complications following his procedure, and everything humanly possible had been done by the doctors and nurses at Germiston medical centre to assist him.
“We are unable to speculate on the possible factors which may have contributed until it has been fully investigated and conclusively established precisely what transpired.
“We will assist with investigations in every way possible.
“We are extremely saddened about this tragedy and will do our utmost to assist the Mokalapa family where possible. Our heartfelt condolences go out to the Mokalapa family.”