Heartbreak for families as life-saving cath lab still not open

Nelson Mandela Bay mother Elmarie van der Merwe Brynard is desperate for the state cath lab – closed for almost two years – to open again so her son Joshua can access the services he so desperately needs to save his life.
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A mother who suffered a breakdown as she watched her little boy turn bluer and weaker over time and an elderly man who is constantly nauseous and feels “like I am being hit on the head with a hammer”.

These are just two of the many Nelson Mandela Bay state hospital heart patients desperately in need of the services of the defunct Provincial Hospital cardiac catheterisation laboratory  or cath lab — a facility the Eastern Cape department of health has not managed to open in almost two years.

The cath lab debacle has dragged on since October 2018, when the facility was declared broken beyond repair.

And while health department spokesperson Siyanda Manana said this week the lab would be open again in October, Bay mother Elmarie van der Merwe Brynard said the pronouncement “means nothing to me any more. I am numb”.

Van der Merwe Brynard has spent an inordinate amount of time trying to keep her little boy Joshua, 6, alive — fighting the department at every turn in her desperation to have the lab reopened.

Joshua was due for another procedure at the cath lab in March but that, too, was postponed.

“Lately he has been seeming more tired and blue,” Van der Merwe Brynard said this week.

Without an angiogram, Joshua, who was born with serious heart defects, will not be able to have the heart surgery so crucial to his survival.

The lab is used to perform non-invasive procedures to fit patients with stents to open blocked arteries, fix arteries and congenital heart defects, and do some vascular procedures.

The use of the lab to correct certain congenital defects in babies’ hearts was pioneered by the dean of the Nelson Mandela University’s medical school, Dr Lungile Pepeta.

Van der Merwe Brynard has watched as at least five promises to reopen the lab were made with no result.

Manana said it would now only be reopened again in October, and blamed Covid-19 and the ensuing lockdown for the lack of progress in construction to repair the facility.

He added that priority cases were being taken care of through a contract the department of health had with the Netcare hospital group.

But for Uitenhage resident Zacharias Vorster, October is “too far”.

He needs an angiogram as a scan has shown some of his arteries are clogged, but the results were not clear enough for doctors to know what action to take.

Vorster, 68, said he had waited 140 days for the angiogram and was so weak he could work for only five minutes before needing to lie down.

His headaches have become so bad he feels as if he is being hit by a hammer.

“I want to fight for it to be opened not just for myself but for everyone who needs it,” he said adding that he had no medical aid and the procedure he needed would cost between R120,000 and R150,000, “a crazy amount”.

Van der Merwe Brynard said the thought that little Joshua and other children in his situation could not be helped because “government just can’t be bothered to do their jobs and there is no accountability” is a constant strain, one that led to her suffering from post-traumatic stress.

“As I was following the news on Covid, I obviously got more and more fearful.

“Then doctors in Italy said postmortems showed a lot of clotting.

“Blood clots are apparently a complication.

“Joshua has two plugs around his heart and is on daily aspirin to prevent clotting around these foreign objects.

“He will need a cath lab to save him should that happen.

“It led me to finally have the PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) breakdown that has been looming.

“I have seen Josh on life support. I have seen him through three major ops.

“The mere thought of going there again was too much, compounded by the virus and lack of a cath lab.

“We may have to travel to Cape Town to get him help.

“We don’t have medical [aid] or much financial resources so I don’t know how,” the mother of seven said.

When the cath lab broke, government officials constantly shifted the goalposts after a January 2019  announcement that it would be operational again within three months.

Construction was once again delayed, with July 2019 said to be the new reopening date.

But July turned into September, followed by November and then December, so Van der Merwe Brynard no longer believes the department’s promises.

Manana did not answer questions relating to costs incurred by the department while the lab stood idle.

By Angela Daniels

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