‘National treasure’ receives pro bono knee replacements

Khomani San elder longs to walk in the dunes and pass on traditional wisdom again

Wednesday, April 12 2017

“I remember when I was younger, before the troubles with my knees began, I took my son into the Park to teach him about nature. As we were walking, I saw a lion in the grass nearby. I told my son, Klein Andrew, to stand still and observe. We watched the lioness for a while. She didn’t attack us; she didn’t even mind us being there. It is one of my favourite memories,” recalls 56-year-old Andrew Kruiper.

Pic: Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Ponky Firer donated his time and expertise to perform Andrew’s operation, and brought Andrew’s plight to the attention of the Netcare Foundation, which covered the hospital and theatre costs. A number of healthcare service providers contributed in various ways to make Andrew’s life-changing procedure possible.

For over a decade, it has become increasingly more difficult for Andrew to walk in the sands of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (KTP), where he was born among the dunes of his ancestral land. Andrew identifies himself as a member of the Khomani San people, and he is one of the few remaining individuals seasoned in the traditional tracking skills of his forebears. He also has a particular affinity for lions.

Andrew worked as a ranger and tracker in the KTP for many years. “If an animal escaped from the park, I tracked it down and brought it back. After some years, I wasn’t able to do this work anymore because of the problems with my knees, so I had to resign,” he remembers.

Andrew suffers from osteoarthritis, affecting both knees, and the only hope he had of regaining full mobility was a double knee replacement.

“I started to feel sad because I was no longer part of nature and I haven’t been able to show or teach my children about nature, as my uncle, Vet Piet, taught me about the plants, the animals, and tracking in the wild. I have a great passion for nature, and I believe it is my vocation to share this knowledge so that others will appreciate these things.”

Andrew’s skill came to the attention of a lion researcher working in the KTP, and for a time he managed to return to the work he loves. “I tracked the animals and took the researchers straight to the animals so that they could be studied. I also used to pass on my knowledge to tourists who visited the park and teach them about the animals, but I had to stop because I just couldn’t manage anymore.

“It broke my heart because I realised that I wouldn’t be able to pass on my knowledge, and then perhaps the value I see in these natural wonders wouldn’t mean anything anymore. I do not want to only talk about our history and traditions, I want to show people and teach others how we used to track and gather food for our families. These things are dying out, and if I do not pass on what I know, who will?”

Andrew Kruiper, who suffered from osteoarthritis, recently received a pro bono double knee replacement at Netcare Linksfield Hospital.

Patricia Glyn, a friend of Andrew’s and an author who has documented the Khomani clan’s fast-disappearing heritage, brought Andrew’s plight to the attention of orthopaedic surgeon Dr Ponky Firer, who practises at Netcare Linksfield Hospital. Patricia regards Andrew as a ‘national treasure’ because he is one of the few remaining individuals able to pass on the rich Khomani culture, and his encyclopaedic knowledge of the KTP’s natural heritage.

“Andrew is such a wonderful person, and I had no hesitation in agreeing to help him,” Dr Firer says. “Andrew’s osteoarthritis had reached a significantly advanced stage. X-rays of his knees show that the cartilage in both knees had been eroded and he has also developed bone spurs, where the bone has grown around the joint, as is characteristic of osteoarthritis.”

Dr Firer agreed to donate his time and expertise to perform Andrew’s double knee replacement, and he enlisted the assistance of a number of his colleagues and other healthcare service providers*, who also agreed to take on Andrew’s case pro bono.

Dr Firer successfully motivated for a medical supplies company to donate the components for the prosthetic knee joints that needed to be implanted in Andrew’s knees. Dr Firer also approached the Netcare Foundation, which is Netcare’s corporate social investment (CSI) arm, about covering the additional costs involved with the procedure, such as theatre facilities and Andrew’s hospital stay.

Mande Toubkin, general manager: emergency, trauma, transplant and CSI at Netcare, says that the Netcare Foundation was touched by the request and was eager to help Andrew so that he could once again pursue his passion for nature and pass on his specialised knowledge to others. The Netcare Foundation was established in 2010 and is registered as a public benefit company, governed by a board of trustees.

“The Netcare Foundation is in the fortunate position to be able to cover the hospital and theatre costs for Andrew’s procedure. Aside from improving his quality of life and restoring his mobility, it is our cherished hope that this operation will assist him in sharing his considerable wisdom with the next generation,” Toubkin notes.

Dr Firer relates the surgical process that was followed in Andrew’s case. “Essentially what we do in the knee replacement procedure is to resurface the bone. We cut the bone to shape and we place a metal component on the top bone, known as the femur. On the bottom bone, called the tibia, we cut a flat surface that has a little hole in it, to secure the metal surface into the tibia, and then we put a plastic insert between the two metal surfaces,” he explains.

“The prosthetic joint we use is called a mobile bearing knee and it allows an excellent range of motion: bending and straightening, flexion and extension, as well as rotation movement. For someone like Andrew, who is going to be active in the bush again, we want to ensure he has maximum mobility.

“As Andrew is fit and healthy, we were able to perform both knee replacements at the same time. The day after the operation, we got him standing with crutches, and the following day he took his first few steps. He will be on crutches for about six weeks, and he is working with a physiotherapist who will guide him through the rehabilitation process,” he adds.

Andrew very soon endeared himself to all those who cared for him during and after his operation. “Netcare Linksfield Hospital, the doctors and staff, everyone here has been amazing. People were making jokes to make me feel at home. I will never stop saying thank you to the doctors, the nurses and the Netcare Foundation for all they did for me. When I recover from the operation, I will continue to teach other people from South Africa and the rest of the world about nature and the ways of the Khomani San people,” he says.

“Once my knees have healed, I will be able to make special memories again, like my favourite memory of the lioness. I still have so much to give, my heart is strong, my mind is strong, and the only thing that has been holding me back is the problem with my knees. The memories I will make will not be only for myself, they will be for the benefit of our great-grandchildren and future generations,” he concluded.

 Editors’ note

*A special thank you to the following healthcare service providers, who contributed to the success of Andrew’s life-changing procedure:

  • Advanced Orthopaedics
  • Diagnostic Radiological Services Incorporated
  • Anaesthetist Dr Antonie de Beer
  • Physiotherapist Gary Sobel
  • Lancet Laboratories
  • Prosthetist Wolhunter Berkowitz


Issued by:  Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of the Netcare Foundation
Contact :  Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville or Pieter Rossouw
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
Email:   [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected]