It’s a question of trust

“The hospital staff became my people…”

Monday, November 9 2020

Humans are resilient. We continue on through mass migrations, world wars and global pandemics. Our landscape has been radically altered many times over, yet in the face of these changes some things remain the same – notably, our need for human connection and the comfort of trust. Never is this truer than when it involves the health and well-being of those we love.

“With the event of COVID-19, people the world over have been plunged into dramatically different circumstances and we have had to adapt,” comments Jacques du Plessis, managing director of Netcare’s hospital division. “For many it has been a difficult time, being unable to see loved ones while they were hospitalised – either for COVID-19 or for other conditions. For others, such as some elderly men and women whose frailty posed too great a risk to admit them during the first number of months of the pandemic for the surgery they required, it has meant having to postpone the medical care they needed.”

According to Dr Anton Julyan, who practises at Netcare Pretoria East Hospital and heads the Gauteng Orthopaedic Society, he started seeing patients in mid-May as many people were in pain and needed help. “From the end of March, I had to postpone approximately 60 operations as we wanted to be particularly safe and careful where older persons and compromised patients were concerned.

“Unfortunately, the patients whose surgeries were postponed lived in pain as most conditions such as arthritis do not resolve themselves without medical intervention. Once we were able to accommodate elective procedures again, I tried to perform an additional two or three procedures on the weekends when I was on call. It is important to remember that postponing surgery for more than three months can exacerbate some of the pathologies, particularly when one considers that orthopaedics is about relieving pain and improving quality of life,” notes Dr Julyan.

Netcare way
Pic: Talita Hamers, a 35-year-old mother of two young with her husband, Michael, five-year old Leah and Chloé who is two years old. Commenting on her procedure Talita said: "I wanted that thing out of my head and that gave me the courage to walk down that passage alone. I let faith take over."


Netcare way
Pic: 46-year-old Marisa Frouws underwent a procedure known as a Janetta for microvascular decompression of the trigeminal nerve in September. Marisa says it was imperative to undergo the procedure as she was no longer responding to medicines and therapies. The symptoms severely impacted her quality of life and was triggered by anything from speaking, brushing her teeth, doing make-up, eating or even by the wind blowing on her face.”


For some, the severity of their condition was only established after they consulted a doctor, and meant that to postpone elective surgery during the COVID-19 lockdown could seriously compromise their health.

One such case was that of Talita Hamers, a 35-year-old mother of two young children, who decided to consult Dr Schalk Burger, a neurosurgeon who practises at Netcare Pretoria East Hospital and is the head of the South African Spinal Society, during lockdown after she started experiencing symptoms ranging from severe headaches and forgetfulness to lack of concentration and extreme anxiety. In July, Talita was diagnosed with Meningioma, a non-malignant tumour with an approximate growth of 3mm per year.

“I don’t exactly recall when I became ill as the nature of the tumour is one of slow growth. Initial MRIs in July confirmed a spherical shape 8cm in diameter, and Dr Burger recommended the tumour be removed as soon as possible as it was “literally killing me”. Talita underwent an emergency craniotomy and, once the tumour had been removed, surgeons measured it at 11cm at its widest,” she says.  

When asked if the decision to undergo such a procedure during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa was a tough one, Talita simply answers: “I wanted that thing out of my head and that gave me the courage to walk down that passage alone. I let faith take over. Nobody could come to see me in hospital but thankfully the staff became my people. Dr Burger is amazing, there are no words to describe him. He is a people’s person through and through. Everyone was so good to me that I bought no fewer than 50 Lindt chocolates to give to everyone at the end of my hospital stay,” Talita says.  

Netcare way
Pic: MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans show the large tumour in Talita Hamers' brain prior to its removal by Dr Schalk Burger, a neurosurgeon practising at Netcare Pretoria East Hospital, who performed the craniotomy. The MRI scans shown here have been imported into a surgical navigation system that was used to guide the procedure. (Image supplied by Dr Schalk Burger)


Another of Dr Burger’s patients is 46-year-old Marisa Frouws, who underwent a procedure known as a Janetta for the microvascular decompression of the trigeminal nerve in September of this year.

“It was imperative that I underwent the procedure as I was no longer responding to a variety of medicines and therapies,” explains Marisa. “The symptoms that impacted my quality of life included experiencing electric-like shocks on the right-hand side of my face which cause mild to severe facial pain. It was triggered by anything from speaking, brushing my teeth, doing my make-up, eating or even by the wind blowing on my face.”

Marisa acknowledges that she was a little concerned to go into hospital at the time, given the COVID-19 pandemic, however she felt that having the trigeminal neuralgia procedure was more important.
“Dr Burger and the hospital put my mind at rest throughout. Before the procedure, during a consultation, Dr Burger assured us that he would call my husband right after the procedure and he kept his promise. While I was in ICU for almost four days, he would make his cell phone available for me while he was on his hospital rounds so I could talk to my husband. The hospital staff supported me 24 hours per day,” she recalls.

It is this level of professionalism matched with human connection that our nation’s highly skilled and experienced specialists provide, even and particularly under extreme circumstances. And while it has been an adjustment for the doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers to work under the most stringent precautionary protocols than ever before, they adapted and continue to be there for patients and their families.

Technology has also played a crucial part in maintaining connection between people, with mobile communication often replacing physical interaction. Dr Burger recalls: “During the height of the pandemic we as doctors were on call continuously, walking around with our cell phones in a little plastic bag so that we could keep in touch with our patients’ loved ones.

“Apart from being cared for, patients also need affirmation – like a brief touch. Touch is important to patients, as is contact with their families. Once patients are in hospital it is obviously difficult for them not to have free access to visitors. However, that is a relatively small price to pay to help keep both the patients and healthcare workers safe,” remarks Dr Burger.

Du Plessis says all Netcare’s medical support staff have undergone training to reinforce communication skills and to emphasise the importance of showing compassion at this time when patients and loved ones have often had to be apart.

“It is in our hospitals where some of the most important moments of people’s lives take place – where babies come into the world and life-saving procedures are performed. In such moments when families are unable to be together, as has been experienced these past months, we strive to take the roles of our healthcare workers one step further. In addition to providing comfort and compassion in their work, they also need to offer families connection to patients. We thank the persons who put their trust in the doctors and staff at Netcare hospitals. We will continue doing whatever it takes to make these important human connections possible,” concludes Du Plessis.

Looking for a medical appointment? Netcare appointmed™ will make appointments with specialists practising at Netcare hospitals, GPs and dentists at Medicross medical and dental centres, and specialists at Akeso mental health facilities for YOU. Simply phone Netcare appointmed™  on 0860 555 565, Mondays to Fridays between 08:00 and 17:00, or request an appointment online at
To find out more about the services offered through Netcare hospitals and other of the Group’s facilities, please visit or contact the Netcare customer service centre either by email at [email protected] or phone 0860 NETCARE (0860 638 2273). Note that the centre operates Mondays to Fridays from 08:00 to 16:00.

For more information on this media release, contact MNA at the contact details listed below.

Issued by:            MNA on behalf of Netcare Pretoria East Hospital
Contact:    Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville and Estene Lotriet-Vorster
Telephone:    (011) 469 3016
Email:    [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]