Dr Khanyisa Pinda has an enlarged heart. Picture: Supplied
Dr Khanyisa Pinda has an enlarged heart. Picture: Supplied

Heart condition, Covid-19 didn't stop Dr Khanyisa Pinda from being a front-line worker

By Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi Time of article published Sep 19, 2020

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As a teenager, Khanyisa Pinda, 26, was told he had six weeks to live because he had dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) – an enlarged heart. But now, he is a medical doctor who has been working on the front line during the pandemic.

Pinda was a first-year medical student when he was diagnosed with DCM, a condition in which the heart’s ability to pump blood is decreased because the heart’s main pumping chamber, the left ventricle, is enlarged and weakened.

In some cases, it prevents the heart from relaxing and filling with blood as it should.

When his health took a dip, Pinda had to take a break from his studies. He had been doing two degrees at the same time – he pursued the less strenuous degree, BMed Honours in Medical Biochemistry at UCT.

In 2017, doctors put Pinda’s name on an urgent transplant waiting list after his condition deteriorated so much that his heart was left with only 10% functionality.

Heart health is receiving attention this September as the country observes Heart Awareness Month – a month dedicated to raising awareness about cardiovascular disease in South Africa, culminating in World Heart Day on September 29.

With the help of medication and frequent check-ups, Pinda’s condition has since improved, allowing him to graduate and work as a doctor at New Somerset Hospital in Cape Town.

At present, his heart functionality is 26% and he has been delisted on the donor list.

While he is living his dream and giving back to the medical industry, Pinda says his life has limitations because of his condition.

“There are things that I can’t do now, with my condition, that I used to do before my diagnosis and that includes physical activity such as jogging, running and training.

“ It’s still a struggle for me because I really want to run or hike when I see people doing it, but physically, it’s impossible.’’

While living with a heart condition can be difficult physically, Pinda says he also suffered emotionally. “When I started working it really hit me. I had to live with the reality of my condition and it hit me hard. I went into a dark place of depression.

“But all of that helped me to become a better person and a more compassionate doctor because I understand what it is like to be a patient. At first, my condition seemed like a curse, but now it’s a blessing in disguise because that’s what sets me apart from my colleagues.”

When the Covid-19 virus hit the world, people with heart conditions were listed as high risk, making Pinda’s condition life-threatening: especially because he was a front-line worker at the hospital.

He says that at the beginning of the pandemic, he was really scared about working as a doctor. “Even at work when we did risk assessments, I was high risk because of my condition. I knew that if I contracted Covid-19, things could really go south. But I had hope that I wouldn’t die because I had already experienced far worse.

“But my fears became a reality when I got infected with Covid-19. It was the bad pneumonia Covid-19 and I had to be admitted for 14 days in the hospital. It was scary and I had terrible shortness of breath, but I knew I had to fight,” says Pinda.

While he has survived the worse, Pinda says it took being intentional about his health to get himself in a stable condition.

His advice: “If you have a heart condition, stay informed and be actively involved with your health. To families, please have conversations about organ donations and donate organs because there are many South Africans who need it.”

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