Oncology unit dream comes true

Hard work, love and generosity combine in new centre for young patients

AFTER a year of work behind the scenes and an intense month of painting, cleaning and decorating, the Eastern Cape’s first paediatric oncology unit was officially opened in Port Elizabeth by Health MEC Dr Pumza Dyantyi  on Wednesday (01/04/15).

“All we want to say is thank you, thank you and thank you,” Igazi Foundation spokesman Cole Cameron said.

“We were blown away by the incredible generosity in money and time that helped us get this done.”

The Igazi Foundation coordinated the establishment of the ward at Provincial Hospital.

A paediatrician at the unit, Dr Elmarie Matthews-Walton, said the love and generosity overwhelmed them.

“I have never before seen people just opening their hearts and not stop giving,” she said yesterday.

Both private and public sector patients are treated at the unit.

Cameron said the opening would be a triple celebration as the foundation was noting the fifth anniversary of the province’s first stem cell transplant and was opening a dedicated nurses’ room on the seventh floor.

Some of South Africa’s most eminent medical experts will be present.

Professor Alan Davidson, professor in paediatric oncology at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital and the University of Cape Town, Professor Nicolas Novitsky of UCT’s haematology department and Professor Mariana Kruger of Stellenbosch University, who is also a representative of the International Society of Paediatric Oncology, are all expected to attend the event.

In an internal memorandum to Department of Health superintendent-general Dr Thobile Mbengashe, Livingstone Hospital chief executive and Port Elizabeth’s public hospitals’ coordinator Dr Kobus Kotze said it was estimated that 400 children in the Eastern Cape should be diagnosed with cancer every year but this was not happening.

“This is almost certainly due to misdiagnosis with concomitant poor treatment,” he wrote.

Kotze had estimated that a fully functional specialist unit could be established at a cost of R17.9-million.

Algoa FM donated R315 000, the proceeds of the Big Walk for Cancer.

The ward was painted and decorated by volunteers, who also created, decorated and donated everything for a playroom.

The children were moved on Monday to the ward, where they were welcomed with balloons and cupcakes.

The Cancer Association of SA, Cansa’s TLC programme and the Childhood Cancer Foundation, Choc, have sponsored the salaries of a fulltime unit manager and social worker.

Paediatric oncologist Dr Johani Vermeulen said: “The kids are very excited. I almost can’t believe that we squeezed them all into a tiny little ward at Dora Nginza Hospital.

“The situation at Dora Nginza Hospital was not ideal for us. We had to squeeze many patients into a ward made for six and some had to be hospitalised in other wards.

“Children who are getting chemotherapy do not have strong immune systems and it was not good for us to share wards and bathrooms with other sick kids. Sometimes I had to squeeze three sick children into a single makeshift isolation room,” she said.

Those days are over now and the doctors are all smiles as they get used to their new, beautiful ward.

“The only thing we would really have to get used to is working so far from each other. I was so used to having Sister Phumla Mquku right by my side. Now I have to shout for her,” Vermeulen said.

Pupils from Curro Westbrook school donated toys to the unit and pupils also made “get well soon” cards for the unit’s little patients.

For the past month, Igazi Foundation’s Charmaine Oosthuizen and Zodwa Dube have been working overtime with Port Elizabeth fashion designer Jason Kieck, his wife, Yiota, and mother, Sandra.

Cameron said they were also very excited to officially open the new nurses’ room and thanked Rafi’s store for its generous donation of appliances for the room.

Other corporate donors were Spar Eastern Cape, City Paint and Tool, Sun Boardwalk, The Mantis Group, Kingfisher FM, Newton Park Superspar, Tavcor, General Motors SA, Sapea Peer Educators, VWSA, Gibb Engineering, Rotary Anns, The Cleaning Specialists, Angelic Wonders, Leon Hugo Studios, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality and Magnetic Storm.

More than 100 volunteers also helped to paint the wards.

Eastern Cape Department of Health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said the department was grateful for the helping hand extended by the private sector and volunteers.

“As we move towards ensuring quality health care, partnerships are very important to us,” he said.

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-Estelle Ellis