Renowned level one trauma centre celebrates 25 years of lifesaving care

Former trauma patients of Netcare Milpark Hospital are living life to the fullest

Monday, November 13 2017

This week Netcare Milpark Hospital celebrated a quarter of a century of lifesaving care at its renowned trauma centre. As the first private hospital to be accredited as a Level 1 trauma centre by the Trauma Society of South Africa, the unit has assisted thousands of patients in the 25 years since its inception.

Photo: "Professor Ken Boffard, trauma surgeon and trauma director of Netcare Milpark Hospital’s level 1 trauma centre, was presented the Netcare Trauma Commemorative Lecture Award at the centre’s 25th anniversary event. Pictured are (from left to right) were: Mande Toubkin, general manager: emergency, trauma, transplant and corporate social investment; René Grobler, trauma programme manager at Netcare Milpark Hospital; Professor Boffard; Sandile Mbele, Netcare’s Gauteng South West regional director; and Jacques du Plessis, managing director of Netcare’s hospital division."

“The lifesaving care provided at Netcare Milpark Hospital’s trauma centre over the years has touched countless lives, not only those of our patients but also the lives of their loved ones,” says Mande Toubkin, general manager of Netcare’s Trauma Division.

“The team’s expertise and commitment to best practice, coupled with the dedication of the specialists and staff, help many critically injured patients on their path to recovery each year. To mark the 25th anniversary of Netcare Milpark Hospital’s trauma centre, we look back on some of the more unusual cases and check in with former patients to see the progress they have made.”

Man impaled on industrial crowbar now training for Comrades Marathon
One afternoon in January 2015, a team of trauma surgeons and nurses stood ready to receive engineering supervisor, Daniel de Wet, who was airlifted to the hospital after being impaled on a two-metre metal industrial crowbar, known as a ‘gwala’, 3.5km underground at a mine in Carletonville.

“I was using the gwala to stir up mud, because we were washing out an underground dam. I wanted to stand up on the suction pipe, which is about a metre high, and somehow I slipped,” Mr De Wet later recalled.

To Mr De Wet’s utter disbelief, he saw that he was impaled on the crowbar, which had penetrated his body at this groin area and had come out his back, just below his shoulder blade. Fortunately, after a struggle to bring him to the surface, Mr De Wet had the benefit of being airlifted to Netcare Milpark Hospital’s world class, level-one trauma centre by an experienced team of Netcare 911 paramedics. When he arrived, two surgical teams led by Professor Kenneth Boffard and Professor Elias Degiannis respectively, were ready to operate: one team concentrating on injuries in the abdomen and one on the chest area.

Once the crowbar was pulled free of Mr De Wet’s body, the doctors saw that the impalement had caused significant damage, destroying one kidney and damaging the small bowel and numerous blood vessels. Remarkably, although Mr De Wet lost a kidney, he made rapid progress and was discharged from hospital only 19 days after his dramatic accident.

“Everyone at Netcare Milpark Hospital who looked after me was absolutely caring. The trauma team, doctors and nurses went above and beyond the call of duty, not just treating my physical injuries but also showing great compassion for my state of mind and my wife’s emotional wellbeing. We are so grateful,” says Mr De Wet, who is now training for running the 2018 Comrades Marathon.

Plane crash survivor makes it to the finals of America’s Got Talent 2017
Kechi Okwuchi was a 16-year-old schoolgirl when she arrived at Netcare Milpark Hospital on 11 December 2005 on a mercy flight, a day after surviving a plane crash in Nigeria.

The teenager was in a critical condition with 65% burns to her body when she was arrived at the trauma centre, and was resuscitated by trauma surgeon, Professor Frank Plani, who now practises at the accredited level 1 trauma centre, Netcare Union Hospital. Professor Plani is also the trauma director and head of the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital and the co-chair of the Academic Division of Trauma Surgery at the University of the Witwatersrand.  

While she was at Netcare Milpark Hospital, where she spent more than seven months in the burns unit, Ms Okwuchi found that music helped her during recovery – something she recalled when she took part in the 2017 America’s Got Talent television contest.  In September, Ms Okwuchi reached the finals of the competition to the delight of the doctors and staff members who cared for her.

“One can only admire Kechi for all her tenacity and her achievements. It was truly gratifying to see her there on the stage. Hers is a tale of tenacity – and what an incredible talent she has,” Professor Plani says.

Johannesburg frostbite and hypothermia survivor steps into a new life
“I was crying out for help, but the sound of the birds drowned out my screams. I could hear a helicopter circling overhead, but I was powerless to attract attention.”

These are the words of Natasha Wong, who suffered hypothermia and frostbite after she slipped and hit her head, landing in a cold stream that runs through Johannesburg’s Delta Park on 31 July 2015.

Unable to move, Mrs Wong was missing for three days before she was rescued and taken to Netcare Milpark Hospital’s Level 1 accredited trauma centre. Thanks to the expert care she received, Mrs Wong narrowly avoided having her feet amputated.

Mrs Wong recently relocated to Cape Town and started a new job. “A lot of people may survive frostbite, but many will not recover to be fully abled. I still have a little nerve pain, but I have joined a walking club and I am thinking of taking up running next year. Last week I even wore high heels for the first time since the accident.”

“When you have an experience like this it makes you appreciate life – it is a real wake up call. If I can give one person hope, or make just one person conscious of the value of the everyday things that we tend to take for granted, that is a priceless gift,” she says.

“I want to thank the Netcare 911 paramedics who rescued me, and the doctors and staff of both Netcare Milpark and Netcare Rehabilitation hospitals, who were amazing.”

Chimp attack survivor launches trauma recovery programme and starts a family
United States citizen, Andrew Oberle, narrowly – some say ‘miraculously’ – survived an attack by chimpanzees in 2012 while volunteering at a great ape sanctuary in South Africa.

“The first thing I remember when I woke up from my induced coma at Netcare Milpark Hospital was seeing my mom and dad standing over me. Their faces looked both sad and relieved at the same time. Then my mom started asking me questions and I gradually remembered what had happened to me.”

It would be several weeks before he would be well enough to fly home to continue his recovery, but Mr Oberle was determined to reclaim his life. Now, some five years later, he has become a father for the first time and is director of development for the Oberle Institute, a trauma care programme at St Louis University that was named in his honour.

Mr Oberle thanked trauma surgeon, Dr Riaan Pretorius, and critical care specialist, Dr Paul Williams, for their lifesaving interventions and the support they showed his parents.

“I can’t thank my doctors, nurses, and other care providers enough for everything they did for me.  Without them, I wouldn’t be alive today.  They kept me breathing and helped me stay strong and healthy enough to make it back home and start a new life,” he notes.

The general manager of Netcare Milpark Hospital, Dr Justin Gavanescu, thanked the doctors and staff of the trauma centre for their consistent hard work in the service of patients.

“Netcare Milpark Hospital’s reputation as a flagship trauma centre is both hard-earned and well deserved. I congratulate them on 25 years of doing what they do best, saving lives and improving patients’ quality of life.  As we look ahead to the next 25 years, I wish the trauma team all the very best as we continue to provide world-class emergency care to people when they need us most,” he concluded.


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