“My philosophy is that no child born with a congenital heart defect should be denied treatment just because they cannot afford it,” said Professor Rob Kinsley, a paediatric cardiac icon who has just joined the paediatric centre at the Lenmed Ethekwini Hospital and Heart Centre in Durban.
“There are thousands of children in KZN with congenital heart defects who are not being treated. You can’t expect the state to treat them all and it is imperative that a foundation be formed to help these patients.
“There are 500 children on the waiting list at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital - and they are the ones who got to the hospital. There are many more around KZN who cannot get to the hospital.”
The foundation, yet to be given a formal name, will be officially launched in February or March, coinciding with the professor’s 50 years in paediatric cardiac surgery.
The hospital was “fully committed” to establishing the foundation and it would be approaching the big corporates for further backing, the general manager, Niresh Bechan, said.
“We want to help the children of KZN,” he said. “It is a huge accolade and first prize as a cardiac centre of excellence to have Professor Kinsley join us.”
Kinsley, who has carried out about 15000 open-heart operations on adults and children over the years, often flew to Durban from his home in Johannesburg last year to help mentor the hospital’s paediatric cardiac unit. Now, he has moved to Durban in what he calls his “retiring years”.
With one in every 100 children being born with a heart defect and Kinsley not believing in anyone being kept on a waiting list, he and the team will be kept busy.
He does not expect to do too much surgery, concentrating on teaching and on the all-important decision-making about what operations are best for patients.
He established the Walter Sisulu paediatric cardiac surgery centre for Africa at the Netcare Sunninghill Hospital in Johannesburg in 2003, which was opened by Nelson Mandela.
“I knew Walter Sisulu and wanted patients to go into Africa and live the memory of Walter Sisulu. When they played football and someone saw the scars on their chests and asked what happened, they could say they were operated on at the Walter Sisulu centre,” he recalled.
Influenced by Dr Christiaan Barnard and his historic heart transplant in 1967, Kinsley started his cardiac surgical career the following year and said the real turning point came in the early 1970s when he went to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, US, the only place in the world that performed complex congenital heart disease operations at the time.
“There were doctors from all over the world who returned to their home countries to establish successful paediatric cardiac programmes,” said Kinsley, who became a cardiothoracic surgery consultant at the University of the Witwatersrand.
“It wasn’t always smooth sailing in the early days, but at the same time it is always unbelievably rewarding to see a young patient who had been struggling to breathe and battling to survive walk out of hospital a normal colour and full of energy.”
Kinsley’s dedication and contribution to the medical profession were recognised in 2011 when he received a lifetime achievement award from the Society of Cardiothoracic Surgeons of South Africa at the 26th World Congress of the World Society of Cardiothoracic Surgeons in Cape Town, attended by cardiac specialists from around the globe.