Gauteng health authorities and the Dr George Mukhari Hospital management have failed to explain why a woman has not had lifesaving surgery for a brain aneurysm three months after being admitted.
The desperate family of 44-year-old Amanda Tilma said since their sister was admitted to the hospital’s neurosurgical department on October 22 last year, they had struggled to get information on why she had not had the procedure, and instead had been given excuses, ranging from the lack of equipment and lost files to the unavailability of beds in the intensive care unit (ICU).
“We have been sent from pillar to post,” her sister Deborah Swanepoel said, explaining that they had met heads of department, the hospital superintendent, and even the chief executive, but no one could tell them where the hold-up was.
Deborah moved temporarily from Zimbabwe to South Africa to be near Tilma, while her husband remained in their Machado home, where he works and takes care of their 7-year-old daughter.
When Tilma was transferred from Limpopo General Hospital it was for urgent, lifesaving surgery for a double aneurysm, a condition the family believes is life threatening, as the affected blood vessels have the potential to leak or rupture and cause bleeding in the brain.
The family have said that she lives in constant fear of dying.
“Every day she calls her daughter and husband to let them know she has lived through another night,” said her sister Vanessa Claggett, who lives in the US.
She was scheduled to have an embolisation procedure, in which doctors would use image guidance to place small, soft metal coils within the aneurysm, to help block the flow of blood and prevent it from rupturing.
Claggett said the prolonged hospital stay had only fuelled Tilma’s distress. She was now begging to be taken home.
Her fear was dying in hospital, and although the family have been working hard to reassure her, they too, are losing hope.
That Tilma was fully functional and could engage with medical staff, get updates and be told that she was not on any surgery list fuelled the despair.
Tilma and her family have been told of plans to transfer her to Charlotte Maxeke and then Steve Biko hospital, facilities which had equipment and recovery beds. Both times nothing happened.
One morning in November she was prepared for the operation, but after waiting for hours she was told the outside specialist had not come because the hospital had a 2D scan, while he required a 3D one for the procedure.
“They have raised her hopes, and then dashed them, and this has slowly damaged her psychologically,” Swanepoel said.
It was when Tilma suffered a stroke in November that the sister decided to leave Zimbabwe to care for her.
“She was in high care for about 10 days. I nursed her through a stage where she could hardly open her eyes or even eat, and even after full recovery they continued to deny her treatment and a chance to go back home,” Swanepoel said.
The Swanepoels visit the hospital every day, where they meet staff and seek updates.
One day they were told her files had gone missing, and so she had missed a chance to be taken to a hospital for the operation.
“That blow was one of the hardest we have been dealt,” Swanepoel said.
Despite promising an investigation, and a detailed explanation about Tilma’s dilemma, Health Department spokesman Simon Zwane had not responded by Sunday afternoon, four days after questions were sent.