Emotions run high as young heart patient is released after pioneering surgery

Five-year-old mechanical heart recipient is finally on his way home

Monday, August 7 2017

Following a four-month stay in the paediatric intensive care unit at Maboneng Heart Institute situated at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital, five-year-old Mnotho Mndebele is finally on his way home after receiving a heart ventricular assist device (HVAD) implant a little over a month ago.  

Smiling broadly before his release from ICU, the brave little patient good-naturedly posed for photographs with the ICU nurses and hospital team who have, over the months, become such an important part of his life.  

Commenting on the ground-breaking operation his emotional mother, Mbali Mndebele, profusely thanked the entire surgical team and nursing staff, whose dogged determination has resulted in Mnotho being able to return home to his family and friends, allowing him to learn and play just like any other five-year old.  

“This is such a happy day for us and it is an incredible relief knowing that Mnotho has been given a second chance at life. I am incredibly grateful to the entire team but would like to thank Dr Viljee Jonker and Dr Greenwood Sinyangwe for going above and beyond to do everything they possibly could to save my son,” she says.

A fight from the very start
 “The doctors fought for my son from the very beginning to make sure he would be able to undergo this surgery. I will never be able to thank them enough for giving me back my boy,” adds Mbali.

Dr Jonker, a paediatric cardiothoracic surgeon who led the implantation team, says at five years of age and having weighed only some 17 kilograms, Mnotho is the youngest patient in Africa, and also one of the smallest and youngest in the world, to have had the benefit of a HVAD mechanical heart implant.  

“Mnotho had been on the heart transplant list but paediatric heart donations rarely become available. He had also been in and out of intensive care units at various hospitals in the year leading up to the operation. In his case, we opted to use the HVAD as a bridge to a future heart transplant. In reality, it is a lifeline until such time as a matching donor heart can be found for Mnotho to undergo a biological heart transplant,” explains Dr Jonker.

A bond unknowingly formed by circumstance
Originally from Newcastle, Mnotho and his mother will spend the next week or two with his uncle in Soweto before returning home to what will undoubtedly be a joyous homecoming celebration for the brave little fighter.

Mnotho is the second child from the Newcastle region to undergo mechanical heart surgery, after ten-year old Philisande Dladla received two mechanical heart devices at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town last year.

Fully comprehending the worry and emotion associated with open-heart surgery, Philisande’s mother, Sindi Dladla and her son paid a surprise visit to the Netcare Sunninghill Hospital during Mnotho’s stay there, as a gesture of support from one fellow HVAD implant mother to another.
With so much in common it was inevitable that the two boys would forge a strong bond. Mbali and Sindi have in addition formed a support group and will remain in contact going forward, as they both await the availability of a matching donor heart to enable the respective surgical teams to proceed with what will prove vital transplant surgery for these two young boys.  

Paediatric organ donors provide a second chance at life
According to the Organ Donor Foundation of South Africa, around 4 300 South Africans are waiting for organ and cornea transplants, however less than 0.2% of South Africans are registered organ donors, resulting in a dire shortage of organs available for transplant in South Africa. The sad reality is that by registering as an organ donor you can save up to seven lives.

The severity of the shortage of paediatric donor organs is really brought home when you consider that for the current five children listed for cardiac transplantation under Dr Jonker’s care, no suitable donors have been found since the beginning of this year. Two additional children did not survive waiting for a heart to become available.  

With August being Organ Donor Month, Jacques du Plessis, managing director of Netcare’s hospital division, says it provides South Africans with an invaluable opportunity to consider registering as an organ donor. “It’s really heartbreaking and unnecessary to lose so many children on the donor waiting list. If you are a parent, just think it could be your own child that is in need of an organ.

“Dr Jonker and his multidisciplinary team have demonstrated that these kind of heart procedures can literally mean the difference between life and death for increasingly younger children. They have also once again shown that we possess world-class paediatric cardiac programmes in this country, and Dr Jonker and his team deserve the greatest recognition for the lifesaving work they do,” he concludes.  



Issued by:    Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Sunninghill Hospital
Contact:    Martina Nicholson, Meggan Saville, Pieter Rossouw or Alison Sharp
Telephone:    (011) 469 3016
Email:    [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]