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Chatsworth’s ‘Florence Nightingale’ delivers baby on pavement

Nurse Gonum Govender with Shannel Afzal.

Nurse Gonum Govender with Shannel Afzal.

Published Jun 3, 2022


Durban: Gonum Govender is Chatsworth's very own Florence Nightingale.

Last Wednesday, the 64-year-old nurse and midwife delivered a premature baby on the pavement of a road bearing the same name - Florence Nightingale Drive. Govender works at the RK Khan Hospital.

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While walking to her home in Westcliff, Shannel Afzal's water broke. The 35-year-old was with her partner, Ashley Naidoo, 31, and their two other children, aged 14 and 10.

"Ashley and my younger daughter were walking ahead of my other daughter and I. All of a sudden, I experienced some pain in my stomach, and then my water broke. My daughter ran to her father and told him what was happening. I could feel my body was ready to deliver our baby, and I decided to lie on the pavement."

She said some members of the community assisted her.

Said Govender: "I had just returned home after my shift ended when I heard someone calling for help. A resident was at my front gate and told me a woman was in labour. When I arrived, she was on her back and screaming in pain."

Members of the community gave Govender towels and gloves.

"Within a few minutes, I delivered a beautiful baby girl. I used the scissors in my pocket to cut the wrist area around the glove to form a band. I used this as a clamp before I cut the umbilical cord. I put the gloves back on and delivered the placenta. The lighting was bad but the residents assisted by switching on the light on their cellphones."

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She said a former colleague, Sashnee Bladel, who was in the area, took Afzal to the hospital.

Gonum Govender.

Afzal has named her daughter Leah Jean Naidoo. They are both doing well.

"She is a premature baby, born at 8 months. She weighed 2.1 kg. I am so thankful that Nurse Govender was there to help," said Afzal.

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Govender, who intends to retire next March, is a single mother. She said she was from humble beginnings.

"My father washed and ironed clothes for a living, and my mother was a housewife. They had five children and always ensured we had the best. I attended Westcliff Secondary but left at Standard 8 (Grade 10) to find a job. I always wanted to do something that would help me serve mankind, and nursing was the answer."

After leaving school, Govender worked in a clothing factory.

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In 1977, she enrolled in a course for nursing assistants at the RK Khan Hospital.

"During this time, the hospital also paid for me to complete matric. I worked as a nursing assistant for 20 years. In 1997, the hospital gave me a bursary to study to become an enrolled nurse. In 2006, I did a bridging course to become a professional nurse, and in 2012, I got a diploma in midwifery."

Anitha Gounden, the operational manager for the postnatal ward at RK Khan Hospital, said: "Staff and Lindiwe Simalane, our deputy nursing manager, are proud of Nurse Govender. She is compassionate and dedicated to her work. She is also responsible. She did not hide and was not worried about contracting an infection during the delivery. She just helped."

Gounden said nurses at the hospital have many challenges. These, she said, included working long hours and having to deal with staff shortages.

"But despite the challenges, they are committed to helping the community."

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