The ongoing struggles in South Africa’s public health-care system, including staff shortages, poor infrastructure and surgery backlogs, has constantly been under the spotlight.
The Western Cape Department of Health has this week decided to sing the praises of the unsung heroes – surgeons.
The three tertiary hospitals – Tygerberg Hospital, Groote Schuur Hospital, and Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital – joined hands in showcasing surgical excellence at their hospitals.
Surgeons were provided an opportunity to share what a day in the life of a surgeon is like, working at the different hospitals.
According to Laticia Pienaar, spokesperson for Tygerberg Hospital, every year, the surgeons collectively perform about 55 000 surgeries at tertiary health-care level in the province.
These include advanced treatments or complex procedures such as plastic surgeries, neurosurgeries, and severe burn treatments.
Three surgeons from the three hospitals participated: urologic surgeon at Tygerberg Hospital Dr Pieter Spies; general surgeon at Groote Schuur Hospital Dr Alana Heynes; and paediatric surgeon at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital Dr Thozama Siyotula.
Spies shared that he sees about 210 patients per week, including 15 to 20 patients who are admitted for major surgeries.
“The urology patients are the highlight of my day! There is never a boring day. You are challenged every day to solve problems that affect a patient’s life on a very personal level, which is the ultimate job satisfaction,” said Spies, who has been a surgeon for 12 years.
Heynes, a final-year registrar specialising in general surgery, explained that surgery is an art, as cliché as it sounds. She sees about 20 patients in the ward per week and has two elective theatre lists per week with two major cases done on each list.
She said: “What I love most about my job is the relationships you build with your patients. From the start of their journey to recovery. With surgery, the improvement in quality of life is often significant and to be able to celebrate the wins with your patient is quite special.”
Heynes said that surgery is more a lifestyle rather than just a profession.
“You are devoted to the patients, and illnesses are not limited to the day. A few of the aspects I struggle most with are working in a resource-limited setting.”
Siyotula has been working as a qualified medical doctor for 12 years and as a fully qualified specialist for a year and seven months at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. She specialises as a paediatric surgeon.
Siyotula said the types of operations she performs include correction for congenital conditions that children are born with and conditions caused by certain diseases.
She explained: “To give examples, congenital esophageal atresia, gastroschisis anorectal malformations, intestinal obstruction, tumours, trauma and kidney and liver transplants. Endoscopic, minimally invasive surgery (laparoscopic and thoracoscopic).”
Siyotula told the “Weekend Argus” that she decided to become a paediatric surgeon when her younger brother was admitted to hospital with acute appendicitis.
The doctor said what she loves most about her job is having the opportunity to wake up every day and deliver specialised health care to children in South Africa.