Heart ops give people back their lives

Zukiswa Mnukwa at her daughter’s bedside at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.

Together, Groote Schuur, Tygerberg and Red Cross War Memorial Children’s hospitals have performed almost 10 000 heart surgeries over the past decade, according to the provincial health department.

And late last month, for World Heart Day, on Friday September 29, three people spoke about how they had benefited from these procedures.

Zukiswa Mnukwa, from Parow, is the mother of a 5-year-old girl who received a ventricular septal defect repair at the children’s hospital. The procedure involved fixing a hole between the left and right ventricles of the heart.

“I was in complete shock when I learned that my unborn daughter was showing signs of a heart defect in the scan. It is not something that a mother wants to hear, but I knew that I needed to be strong,” said Ms Mnukwa.

Her daughter had her first surgery at 9 months old and a second operation at the age of 5.

“It is a very difficult time in our lives, but the surgeons and the nurses at the hospital have been extremely supportive and transparent,” Ms Mnukwa said.

Melanie Petersen, 35, of Mitchell’s Plain, consulted her doctor when she noticed that she could not perform everyday tasks without experiencing shortness of breath and an increased heart rate.

She was referred to Groote Schuur Hospital where she was diagnosed with an atrial septal defect that she had unknowingly had since birth. She had her heart surgery in June.

“I can feel the difference in my life since I got the surgery. I no longer feel tired when I work, and I do not get tired when I walk or see to my everyday activities. I can now live a normal life,” she said.

Tinotenda Naini, 23, from Hermanus, was severely ill with an acute aortic dissection while 30 weeks pregnant. Her baby was born prematurely at Tygerberg Hospital last month and afterwards the surgeons repaired her aortic valve and replaced her aorta, which is the largest artery in the body.

“This surgery changed my life for the better, and my baby is doing well, and I feel relieved knowing I will not have any breathing problems again,” she said.

According to Red Cross spokeswoman Danielle Cargnelutti, World Heart Day reminds everyone that heart disease remains one of the leading causes of death in the country.

“Lifestyle choices can prevent many of these conditions, and medication can help manage them if they occur. While carrying risks, surgery at a tertiary hospital may be recommended for some advanced and complex conditions,” she said.

Professor André Brooks, who spearheads specialist cardiac surgeries at both Groote Schuur and Red Cross, said successful surgeries were the result of multi-disciplinary teams working together.

“Our dedicated team of specialists is what allows us to carry out these procedures. Without the collaboration of a cardiology team, anaesthetists, perfusionists or the ICU team, we would not be able to do what we do.”

Head of cardiothoracic surgery at Tygerberg Hospital Professor Jacques Janson said: “Even though our hospitals are under extreme pressure with large volumes of patients with severe illnesses, the outcomes of patients compare well with world-class units.”

Melanie Petersen says she is living a full life after her heart operation.