Heart surgery for a wonder called Wanga

Teamwork to heal a little girl’s heart
Tuesday, July 4 2023

Wanga Khumeleni recently celebrated her sixth birthday just over two months after undergoing intricate heart surgery at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital. Her healthcare journey was made possible by medical teamwork spanning the public and private sectors.

“Wanga has a big personality for such a little person. She is our only child for now, and she is a wonder to us every day. Her birthday, which was on 21 June, had special significance for us this year because of all that she has been through and has overcome,” says Wanga’s father, Takalani Khumeleni.

It came as a shock to the family from Olievenhoutbosch when doctors discovered that their daughter had a heart murmur. They were referred to Steve Biko Academic Hospital, where Wanga was seen by a team led by paediatric cardiologist Professor Lindy Mitchell.

“One in every 100 children is born with a significant heart defect. In South Africa, approximately 12 000 children are born every year with a life-threatening heart problem,” Prof Mitchell points out.

Pic: Little Wanga Khumeleni is one of approximately 12 000 South African children born every year with a life-threatening heart problem. She recently celebrated her 6th birthday after undergoing a specialised heart operation at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital. This was made possible by the Netcare Foundation, Maboneng Foundation and the medical team who gave their time and expertise pro bono to assist Wanga.


“While many adult heart problems can only be managed, the majority of children’s heart defects can fortunately be repaired, leaving the child with a normal quality of life, life expectancy, and future. We have to find these children in order to help them, and then have trained paediatric cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons to treat them.  Yet, while the problem of heart disease in children is huge, the number of specialists available to treat them is unfortunately very small,” she says.

“Little Wanga was born with two serious heart defects that needed surgical repair. In the state sector, the waiting time for her operations was at least six months,” Prof Mitchell says.

“Prof Mitchell is so amazing, and she helped us to apply for assistance from the private sector so that our daughter’s operation could happen sooner,” Mr Khumeleni says.

Enter the Netcare Foundation, which is Netcare’s corporate social investment (CSI) arm, and the Maboneng Foundation, which coordinates funding for lifesaving operations for children with congenital heart defects.

The state-of-the-art paediatric cardiothoracic centre based at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital in Johannesburg is the largest of its kind in Africa. Cardiothoracic surgeons Dr Erich Schürmann and Dr Hendrick Mamorare of the Maboneng Heart and Lung Institute, paediatric cardiologist Dr Janine Meares and anaesthetist Dr Krishnee Naidoo who all practise at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital, gave their time and expertise pro bono to perform Wanga’s heart operation. The theatre costs and hospital care were covered by the Netcare Foundation and Netcare Sunninghill Hospital.

“It is a huge relief for us that our daughter’s operation was a success. Just a few days later Wanga was discharged from hospital, and we could take her home. Not long after, she was able to return to school and play with her friends. We are so thankful to all the doctors and nurses who looked after our daughter and the organisations that made it possible.”

Asked where Wanga’s future career aspirations lie, Mr Khumeleni says: “Before Wanga said she wanted to be a doctor, but I think she’s had quite enough of doctors and hospitals for now, and she is just enjoying each moment to the fullest.

“She has a great sense of humour and makes us laugh all the time. She loves swimming and dancing, and I am sure she will discover many more talents as she grows up,” her proud father says.

“Wanga is so full of potential and, like her, there are many other children who are born with life limiting conditions requiring highly resource intensive medical procedures,” says Mande Toubkin, Netcare’s general manager: emergency, trauma, transplant and CSI.

“Working together through initiatives such as this, healthcare can reach more children and make the world of difference to their lives, and those of their families, for the future.”

In partnership with various healthcare practitioners and organisations, Netcare offers the resources at its disposal to help people needing life-altering corrective surgery for a range of medical conditions. With the aid of the Netcare Foundation, the company has helped to change the lives of countless South Africans.

“We wish Wanga and her family everything of the best for the future. Wanga is one of the fortunate few but she represents a drop in the ocean. We need more sponsors and public private cooperation to save more lives,” Dr Schürmann concludes.

For more information about the Maboneng Foundation, which coordinates sponsorship of the procedures, or to make a lifesaving donation towards helping more children like Wanga, please visit


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Issued by: MNA on behalf of the Netcare Foundation and the Maboneng Foundation
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