Stellenbosch University medical students on a mission to save organs for transplants

Naazim Nagdee, Jonty Wright, Sachen Naidu, Suhayl Khalfey

Naazim Nagdee, Jonty Wright, Sachen Naidu, Suhayl Khalfey

Published Apr 21, 2024


Keeping donated organs viable until they are needed can often be a challenge, that is why a group of Stellenbosch University (SU) medical students made it their mission to establish a specialised intensive care unit (ICU) for organ donors at Tygerberg Hospital.

This dedicated unit, dubbed the “Life Pod”, aims to significantly boost the hospital’s capacity for posthumous organ transplant, potentially saving up to 100 lives annually.

This Life Pod – a first of its kind in Africa – will provide life support to consented organ donors to keep their organs viable until these can be harvested for transplantation.

“This specialised unit will safely house donors for the 12 to 36-hour period before surgery, instead of letting their life-saving organs go to waste,” said Naazim Nagdee, a fourth-year medical student and vice-president of Save7, a student-led non-profit organisation focused on organ donation awareness.

The students’ initiative stems from a personal experience. “We recently encountered a family desperately seeking a kidney for their six-year-old son,” said Suhayl Khalfey, manager of Save7’s Tygerberg Branch.

“Tragically, the timing of the availability of organs and potential transplant did not align, and a vital opportunity for a transplant was missed. This Life Pod could prevent such losses.”

The group of medical students, alongside faculty members from the Departments of Surgery and Internal Medicine, have identified a room in the hospital that could be converted into a Life Pod.

They’ve received the green light from hospital administration and secured the support of departments crucial to the Life Pod’s day-to-day operations.

“The last hurdle is raising R400 000 to convert this room into a ‘pop-up’ ICU,” explains Sachen Naidu, a core member of Save7.

They’ve partnered with The Health Foundation, a public healthcare supporter, who will match each rand raised by the students – putting them just R200 000 away from their goal.

Taking their commitment a step further, four students – Henri van der Westhuizen, Gerhard Niewoudt, Alexander van Wyk and Jonty Wright – will be competing in the upcoming Ironman 70.3 in Nelson Mandela Bay tomorrow. Their campaign, aptly named “Tri for Life”, aims to raise awareness of the cause, and vital funds for the Life Pod.

“We can’t wait until we’ve graduated to start helping the 5 000 South Africans waiting for transplants,” says Save7 president Jonty Wright. “Recent national public sector budget cuts have exacerbated the issue, with limited ICU beds adding to the loss of potential donors. Each donor represents up to seven lives that could be saved.”

Save7, established in 2021 by Wright and his fellow students, was born from witnessing the heartbreak of families desperately awaiting organ donations. Their core message is powerful: by registering as an organ donor, individuals have the potential to save seven lives after they die.

“Year after year, we see patients deteriorating while waiting in vain for a life-saving organ,” said Wright.

“The realisation that a wellequipped and staffed room could be the key to getting these organs to those who need them most was the catalyst for action. Together with Tygerberg Hospital staff, we identified a suitable room and began mobilising.”

The students have already sourced all the necessary equipment for the Life Pod, including an ICU bed, monitors, a ventilator, and essential medical lines. Additionally, they have a network of volunteers ready to support the medical staff.

Professor Elmi Muller, Dean of SU’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences and president of The Transplant Society, has voiced her support for the Life Pod project.

“Witnessing the next generation of medical professionals leading this vital project with such passion and determination is truly inspiring.”

For more information about Save7, visit, or connect on Instagram @savesevenlives or LinkedIn @ save7, or phone Jonty on 063 612 2401 or send an email to [email protected].

If you want to donate towards the Life Pod, you can make an EFT to SAVESEVEN at FNB account number 630 2528 6823, branch code: 260548.

Please use “your name and LIFE POD” in your reference, as all donors will be named on a plaque of honour in the Life Pod.

Weekend Argus