Bhisho ordered to pay blind brothers R16m

Lee-Anne Butler

A FORMER Despatch couple have accepted a R16-million payout from the Eastern Cape Health Department on behalf of their twins who went blind because of negligence at Dora Ngzina Hospital.

But they are worried that the money to sustain their little boys, now aged six, may never materialise.

The department has already ignored a high court order granting the boys, Divan and Ewan Ferreira, interim relief of R4.6-million.

As a result, the twins' mother, Aletta, doubts that the department will honour the remainder of the agreement.

The worried mother said yesterday she was extremely disappointed that the department had not paid the interim relief. "We have received no answers as to why they have not paid us yet, but we are grateful that the court case has finally come to an end.

"We will fight this to the very end until they pay what is owed to Ewan and Divan. This is for their future."

Ferreira said the family was battling to cope. They have moved to Worcester so the boys can attend the Pioneer School for the Blind.

However, they cannot afford a facilitator to help the boys, who will turn seven in June, to complete Grade R.

As a result, they are repeating their school year.

Ferreira and her husband, Charl, initially sued for R22-million for medical negligence. After a legal battle, the department eventually admitted a year ago that it was responsible and that the boys had been permanently blinded due to negligence.

Yesterday's R16-million settlement agreement comes in the wake of a report published in The Herald on Monday about the desperate need for equipment at the Dora Nginza paediatrics unit.

Items required include oxygen blenders which would help prevent cases of babies going blind due to being given too much oxygen at birth, unit head Dr Lungile Pepeta said.

Oxygen blenders cost just R15000 each, an insignificant amount compared to the R16-million taxpayers now have to fork out to the Ferreiras.

On the case, provincial department spokesman Siyanda Manana said the interim relief had not been paid as a result of miscommunication between the department and its attorneys.

"The money was paid to the state attorneys but they were not properly briefed. The entire R16.125-million will now be transferred to the law firm representing the family," Manana said.

The Ferreiras' legal representative, Manoj Karsan, of Uitenhage's Karsans Attorneys, said the interest accumulating from the interim relief of R4.6-million that had not been paid was already running into tens of thousands of rands. "The department is actually costing itself more money by not settling.

"They now have 30 days left to settle the rest of the R16-million and then 15.5% interest will apply."

In December, the court showed its disapproval of the department by making a punitive costs order against it.

The court also ordered that the costs of 11 experts be paid by the department. The Ferreiras discovered all was not well with their babies' sight three months after their birth when an examination at the Eye and Laser Institute in Port Elizabeth revealed the twins' eyes had been damaged during their time in hospital.

Soon after their birth, the boys were exposed to light far too harsh for their eyes while in an incubator at the hospital.