Surgical team share stories of their most memorable patients

Surgical teams at Tygerberg Hospital share their most memorable patients, whose lives were saved. Picture: Henk Kruger

Surgical teams at Tygerberg Hospital share their most memorable patients, whose lives were saved. Picture: Henk Kruger

Published Dec 29, 2023


Cape Town - The gift of life is precious and surgeons behind the scenes have shared their most memorable patients who have survived despite the odds.

This week, the Weekend Argus team joined registrars in the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at Tygerberg Hospital. They gave a glimpse into some of the lives they have saved, among them a teenager who sustained multiple injuries, including a crushed pelvis, after being involved in a motor vehicle accident (MVA) that claimed the lives of four people; a man who had suffered a heart attack; a person whose colon had burst; and a victim of a gunshot.

The group of young professionals are part of the amazing team at the hospital who deal with more than 50 trauma patients a month.

The team is led by Professor Elmin Steyn, the head of the division of surgery, and trauma surgery at the faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Stellenbosch, Tygerberg Hospital.

She facilitates medical students and registrars who are studying at the University of Stellenbosch.

Surgical teams at Tygerberg Hospital share their most memorable patients, whose lives were saved. Picture: Genevieve Serra

“We asked them (the students) about the memorable patients. They mentioned one who had a gunshot wound, broken pelvis and a colon which had burst,” said Steyn.

Dr Henk Kruger, who is also a registrar, remembers his patient, Peter Hall, who was admitted to the hospital three months ago after having multiple health issues which included an infected prostate and perforated colon.

“He came to the hospital with an infected prostate and was treated. He came back as he was not feeling well and had a perforated colon, which is small bubbles on the colon.

“He then underwent an emergency operation where we had to take out his colon and place inside of him what we call a colostomy bag.

“He then developed a bad lung infection after the operation and was sent to ICU, where we placed him on a ventilator and organ support for his heart, lungs and kidneys.

“He then had an infection in his wound and needed another operation. After the second operation, he suffered a heart attack and almost died.

“He took a while for him to recover. He was discharged and will need another operation to repair a hernia.

“He has written a letter to the hospital to say thank you.”

Kiana Bredell, who is now a registered doctor after graduating, has received a prize for being the best surgery student. She was part part of a team of students who travelled abroad as part of her studies.

“I had the opportunity to go overseas and see the surgeries over there.

“There was an emergency that happened, and myself and another student from Stellenbosch University, we jumped in and helped and this took place in Oxford, England.

“We helped to stabilise the patient. I was thinking of our university students from South Africa; the training we receive is phenomenal.”

Dr Abigail Mukendwa, who is a registrar student and is due to complete her studies next year, said her most memorable patient was a teenager who had suffered multiple injuries in a vehicle accident in July. The youngster had fought to survive. She had been discharged in October and was undergoing rehabilitation.

“She came in as a 17-year-old and celebrated her 18th birthday inside the hospital,” the doctor said.

“She had multiple trauma and was involved in an MVA in which four people died. One of the surviving patients was her mother who was also treated medically.

“She had injuries to her neck, head, chest and pelvis.

“She sustained fractures of the ribs and had a scapula fracture, a clavicle fracture, a liver and kidney injury, a perineal injury and a pelvic fracture.

The teenager was unable to move for a long time but, was now walking.

“This patient also needed motivation and it was multidisciplinary, teamwork. She was very sick and she walked out of here.

“She is an example of why we went into this field – to save lives like hers.”

Dr Nabeel Allobi, a registrar, works in the trauma unit and sees gruesome injuries sustained by anything from gunshots to stabbings and accidents.

“It is difficult whether you are a gangster or not, when you are left with being immobilised or not being able to walk again; one day you are walking and the next not. And it is traumatising,” he said.

“We rely a lot on our auxiliary teams, our social workers and physiotherapy, the psychologist and therapist.

A patient who cannot be identified after he was shot a week ago, said he was grateful to the medical team:

“I was shot with a gun last week Wednesday in N1 City and I was brought to this hospital and they saved my life.

“I am only 21 years old.”

Yolanda Torrens is grateful to be alive. pic Genevieve Serra

Yolanda Torrens, 43, of Bellville-South, underwent reconstructive surgery on her right arm this week after being involved in a freak accident.

“I was trying to escape people who were chasing me and I landed up in someone’s backyard and I fell asleep there,” she said.

“When I woke up, I continued to run. The next moment, I just felt the roof of a structure falling on top of my arm.

“Here in hospital, you just need to be patient and I am grateful to all of the staff who helped save my arm.”