NW mother becomes the first patient to undergo a heart operation in a township hospital 

surgery in the operating theatres
The six hour long operation took place last week. (supplied)

Martha Vanstawel, a 38-year-old mother of two, has become the first person to undergo heart surgery at a township hospital.

Vanstawel from Jouberton, in Klerksdorp has suffered from a leaking heart valve with an abnormal swelling of the heart since 2006. While she has been travelling from Jouberton to Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital for treatment over the years, Vansatwel didn’t want to undergo such a major operation at a facility that’s far from her family. 

She finally agreed to have the surgery at Klerksdorp-Tshepong hospital, which is situated in the heart of Jouberton township right next to a taxi rank. She is the first person to undergo an open heart surgery at Klerksdorp-Tshepong hospital’s newly renovated cardiothoracic theatre. This was also the province’s first heart operation at a public hospital. 

The six hour long operation took place on Friday. On Monday the hospital reported that she is doing well and in high spirits.

According to the North West health department patients who needed this kind of surgery were forced to travel to hospitals in Gauteng or Bloemfontein in the Free State. 

This week, the North West and Gauteng health departments hosted a webinar along with the specialists who were part of the surgery, and health officials from both departments.  

She finally agreed to have the surgery at  Klerksdorp-Tshepong hospital. The six hour long operation took place on Friday. On Monday the hospital reported that she is doing well and in high spirits. 

Vantswel’s uncle Johannes Moseki tells Health-e News that the family is over the moon that the operation went well. 

“It was a nail biting moment for us when we heard she will be operated on here in our township hospital. We were scared that this was a big operation and we had so many ‘what ifs’. It was worse when she visited my parents asking them to look after her mother and children, who are 12 and 5 years old, should anything happen to her. However, her heart condition has been giving her health problems and she decided not to wait any longer when the opportunity was granted to her,” he says. 

He says the doctors assured the family that Vantswel will be operated on by the best team and there will also be doctors from Gauteng. 

Collaborative partnership

The operation was a collaboration between North West and Gauteng health departments.

Klerksdorp-Tshepong hospital was supported by  Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital where Vantswel received her treatment. 

The team from Charlotte Maxeke Hospital was led  by Dr Tumi Taunyane, head of cardiothoracic surgery who was born and raised in Klerksdorp. He is excited to have been part of the team that participated in the historic project. 

“Cardiac surgery requires a lot of resources from manpower capacity, infrastructure and equipment. For many years we felt that the team was ready. The infrastructure was there with the equipment and the right people with the right mindset. It was a matter of determining when to do the procedure,” he says. 

While presenting during the webinar, Taunyane says they looked at all the patients that were made available to them and chose Vantswel. 

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“In 2016 surgery was contemplated for Vantswel but for various reasons it was never carried out. Another challenge is that other than a leaking heart valve, her heart developed swelling which could complicate the operation. That is not a procedure that can be done routinely, it poses a unique challenge.  However we were confident that this procedure would pull through with minimal or no challenges at all,” he says. 

Head of anaesthesia Dr Palesa Motshabi Chakane, who was part of the webinar, says this has been a wonderful procedure to be done in the North West. 

“The procedure comes with numerous risks such as bleeding, arrhythmias, failure to come off cardiopulmonary bypass to mention only a few. We are happy that it finally happened as it has been long coming. For many years it was supposed to be happening. Patients will no longer be travelling to other provinces,” she says.  

North West NHI ready

North West Health MEC Madoda Sambatha says this is an investment that his department has made in preparation for National Health Insurance (NHI) over the years. 

A week ago president Cyril Ramaphosa signed NHI into law. The NHI Act sets the scene for the creation of a fund that the government will use to purchase health services from healthcare providers in both the public and private sector. 

Ramaphosa said this was part of the global push towards universal health coverage which means that all people have access to the full range of quality health services they need, when and where they need them, without financial hardship. 

“Just a week after the NHI was signed, Dr Taunyane and his team delivered to the president the fruits of  the NHI scheme that was signed. This is NHI in operation. Clearly you have two provinces using their own people to intervene in a health challenge. This is done in public hospitals and done by professionals employed in the public healthcare sector system,” Sambatha says. 

Sambatha adds that the  assumption that the NHI cannot be implemented because the government still needs to fix hospital theatres has been proven wrong in the North West. He says the province has been fixing the public health system for over 10 years.

“Fixing public health is like fixing a train  in motion, you don’t stop and say you will not admit patients because you are fixing facilities. You fix facilities as you attend to health challenges. This proves the readiness for North West to have its own medical school. This complex has proven beyond any doubt it’s ready to deliver NHI and medical school responsibilities,” he says.  

Gauteng Health MEC Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko adds that the initiative exemplifies the transformation of health services focusing on access and equity to healthcare in South Africa.

“The collaboration has paved the way for enhanced delivery ensuring that specialised services are accessible to all citizens in their province of origin,” she says. 

A life has been saved 

Vanstawel, who is still in hospital, says she is grateful for the care and treatment she has received. 

“I am happy that the operation was done here at home where my family can easily come to see me. I am looking forward to changing my life for the better. It feels like I have been given a second chance in life,” says Vanstawel who communicated to Health-e news through her uncle. – Health-e News 

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