I was given a second chance at life

Open-heart surgery patient celebrates 75th birthday 26 years after the operation

Wednesday, July 22 2015

At Hester Herselman’s 75th birthday party last weekend, she felt blessed to be surrounded by her sister-in-law, daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who were there to celebrate this important day with her. Like any traditional birthday party, there was cake, candles and balloons and everyone was in great spirits.

Twenty-six years ago, however, Mrs Herselman was unsure whether she would get to even mark her 50th birthday as she lay in hospital, about to become the first open-heart surgery patient to be operated on in Port Elizabeth at a private hospital.

“I remember feeling petrified before the surgery. But I knew I was in good hands with the medical team at the hospital and my doctor, Dr Mervyn Williams, as he had done a few of these operations before at other hospitals. My faith in the Lord and my supportive husband also gave me the courage to go into that operating theatre,” recalls Mrs Herselman.

Pic: Mrs Hester Herselman at her 65th birthday party with one of her six great-grandchildren, Ava-Millee Schreuder. Mrs Herselman was the first patient in Port Elizabeth to have open heart surgery at a private hospital 26 years ago.

Mrs Herselman suffered from mitral valve disease, which occurs when the mitral valve, located between the left heart chambers, does not work properly. The purpose of the valve is to keep blood flowing properly, from the left atrium to the left ventricle, and prevent the blood from flowing backward.

“I would get tired very easily and it often felt as though my chest was closing up, which caused me to suffer from claustrophobia. An angiogram then diagnosed my condition,” notes Mrs Herselman.

Fortunately for her, Netcare Greenacres Hospital was in the process of starting an open-heart surgery unit, and was equipped to attend to Mrs Herselman’s heart condition. Dr Williams, the cardiothoracic surgeon who operated on Mrs Herselman, says that in the 1980s it took patients three to six months to recover fully from open-heart surgery.

After her recovery, Mrs Herselman remembers feeling, as she puts it, “fit for life”. “I was able to do my own housework again, whereas before I was simply too exhausted. I could live out my passion for needlework and baking once more. I baked biscuits and Christmas cakes for the community in Alexandria where I stayed, and made dozens of koeksisters. My koeksisters are the best and I have made sure to pass my special recipe down through my family so they will remember me when I’m gone one day.”

Mrs Herselman has not once been bothered by heart problems since the operation. “I had a stroke in 2010 and am currently on medication for that but I haven’t had to take any medicine for my heart since my recovery from the surgery.”

The 75-year-old is grateful every day for the two and a half decades that have been added to her life so far. “Without the open-heart surgery, I would not have been able to retire with my husband, to whom I was married for 55 years before he passed away in June 2013. I would not have got to know my 15 grandchildren and my six great-grandchildren and see my six daughters become mothers.

I have travelled a lot around South Africa since my operation, visiting my many family members and attending their weddings. Without Dr Williams and the team at Netcare Greenacres Hospital, none of this would have been possible.”

Dr Williams, who himself is now 76 years old and has been retired for the past seven years, notes that treatment for heart conditions today is considerably different to what it was in 1989.

“There have been tremendous advances in technology, such as new surgical techniques, safer anaesthesia, more sophisticated heart and lung machines, as well as advanced diagnostic technology and non-invasive treatment options.”

Twenty-six years later, Netcare Greenacres Hospital is still at the forefront in the cardiac field, having completed expansions and upgrades to its cardiac facility late last year. “Our new cardiac centre is an important development for heart medicine in the Eastern Cape, offering adult and paediatric patients a comprehensive range of cardiac services. This facility is an expression of the hospital’s complete commitment to the community and its cardiac patients,” says Netcare Greenacres Hospital acting general manager, Dina Botha.

She says the incorporation of a number of specialised cardiac services, for example paediatric cardiac treatment, together with dedicated facilities including a cardiac theatre, an electrophysiology (EP) unit, two cardiac catheterisation laboratories, a coronary care unit, cardio-thoracic ward, and an intensive care unit (ICU) into the cardiac centre, enables specialists focusing on various disciplines within heart medicine to work more closely with each other to the benefit of patients.

“Patients can be rapidly referred on to the appropriate cardiac specialist to take care of their particular heart condition. With its outstanding technology, the facility at Netcare Greenacres Hospital enables doctors to perform procedures with greater precision, which ultimately means improved outcomes and much quicker recovery times,” Botha adds.

Multi-disciplinary teams of specialists at the hospital are able to use a range of different approaches to treat cardiac and vascular diseases, with cases being managed by cardiologists and radiologists who are able to guide procedures using diagnostic imaging equipment to visualise the arteries and chambers of the heart.

A range of sophisticated diagnostic and interventional equipment has been introduced as part of the facility’s upgrade. The new bi-plane imaging technology, which provides highly detailed images of a patient's blood vessels, is an example of such equipment. The bi-plane system enables doctors to obtain three-dimensional views of a patient's anatomy and is used to accurately guide remote, minimally invasive procedures. The system also has the advantages of reducing the patient’s exposure to radiation and dyes, making it safer for children and the elderly in particular.

Mrs Herselman is full of praise for the cardiac team at Netcare Greenacres Hospital that treated her all those years ago. “Dr Williams and his team gave me my life back and I know that the hospital has done the same for the thousands of patients who came after me.”


Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Greenacres Hospital
Contact : Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Sarah Wilson or Meggan Saville
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
Email: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], or [email protected]