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Johannesburg - "My little girl died in my arms and there was nothing I could do to help her,” said a distraught mother, whose eight-year-old daughter died in an “old” hospital bus, while they were being transported to another healthcare facility, so that she could have surgery.

Nompumelelo Masombuka, a Grade 2 learner at Kabenziwa Primary School in Siyabuswa, Mpumalanga, was suffering from TB meningitis and died on the bus that her mother, Khanyisile Masombuka, dreaded boarding.

“There was no emergency medical equipment or supplies on the bus. It was old and unsafe. I had no choice but to get on it,” Masombuka said.

Although she could not remember exactly when Nompumelelo underwent the first operation at Witbank Hospital, she said at the time she had refused to board the bus.

“I think it was around May. She was transferred from Mmametlhake Hospital (in Hammanskraal) to Witbank Hospital, where she would be operated on. When the bus arrived, I refused to board it because my daughter’s condition was critical.

“I was told that there were no ambulances and if I didn’t board the bus, I would be late for my appointment. I refused to get on it and it left without me and my child. The ambulance arrived at about 11am and we arrived in Witbank at 1:30pm,” Masombuka said.

When they returned after being transferred back to Mmametlhake Hospital several days after the operation, they were put on the same bus.

Masombuka said Nompumelelo had not returned to school since the first operation.

Mpumalanga Department of Health spokesperson Dumisani Malamule said Nompumelelo was due to undergo another operation on July 16, the day she died on the bus.

“We left Mmamethlake Hospital at about 6.30am. I was told that there were no ambulances and that I would have to wait for an ambulance, which had taken a patient to a hospital in Pretoria.

“My child was in a critical condition. And no one listened to me when I told them it was not safe for us to travel on the bus because she was not on life support,” Masombuka said.

She added that Nompumelelo’s condition required that she lie down because she was very ill.

“I held her in my arms, but her condition got worse and she cried a lot. When she stopped crying, I thought she was asleep. I then realised she was not breathing.

“I screamed for help, and the nurse who was sitting in the front came to assist. She tried resuscitating her but she did not wake up. It was wrong for hospital officials to put us on that bus, and now my child is dead,” Masombuka said.

Malamule said that a week before Nompumelelo was due to have surgery, Masombuka requested a week’s pass, which was granted.

Malamule said Nompumelelo’s condition was stable when she boarded the bus.

“At the time, the child’s condition was not a cause for concern; she was stable, according to the doctor’s diagnosis,” Malamule said.

He said if Nompumelelo’s condition was critical, they would have transported her in an ambulance.

“But on their way to the hospital, her condition changed. We have launched an inquiry to determine what happened while they were en route.

“Was the child really stable or was there human error?” Malamule asked, adding that the condition of the bus would also be investigated.

The DA in Mpumalanga said it was angered by the incident. “There should have been some form of emergency life-support equipment that could have stabilised her. But there was just a nurse, who could only give basic CPR,” said DA provincial leader Jane Sithole.

The Star