Friday, August 9, 2019

They give kids a fighting chance

They give kids a fighting chance

•The Herald (South Africa)
•9 Aug 2019
•Kathryn Kimberley

Not all superheroes wear capes, some wear stethoscopes around their necks.
For thousands of parents with gravely ill children, the three women doctors who run Provincial Hospital’s paediatric oncology ward are their unsung heroes.

Time and again, Dr Johani Vermeulen, Dr Elmarie Mathews and Dr Bulelwa Masoka save lives, or at the very least give each child that crosses their path a fighting chance – and that is their superpower.

They believe their racial and cultural differences make them the perfect team.
One thing they do have in common – other than being women, of course – is that they are adamant that, decades from now, they will remember every single one of their little patients.
From Koster in the North West to Butterworth and Port Elizabeth, the three women came from different sides of SA to work together under one roof.
Their patients, many of them born sick, have life-threatening illnesses and it is their mission to save their lives.
Vermeulen, 43, the head oncologist, said she had wanted to be a doctor from as far back as she could remember.
She studied towards her medical degree at the University of Pretoria, ultimately specialising as a paediatrician, a field still widely dominated by men, particularly in the Eastern Cape.
She did her fellowship in paediatric oncology, which she quickly realised was her calling.
It was her friend, Mathews, born and bred in Port Elizabeth, who informed her there was no paediatric oncologist in the city.

In 2011, she made contact with head of paediatrics, Dr Lungile Pepeta.
“I phoned him and told him my plan, but that I would need to specialise first,” Vermeulen said from her consulting room at Provincial Hospital.
The walls are adorned by photographs of smiling children, newspaper clippings and colourful drawings from patients.

“I then started at Dora [Nginza Hospital] and financial arrangements were made for me to complete my studies in Pretoria on condition that I come back here,” she said.
In 2014, she helped start the paediatric oncology unit at Dora Nginza, where Mathews joined her.
In April 2015, Vermeulen and Mathews moved the unit over to the larger M3 unit at Provincial.
Once she obtained her accreditation from the Health Professions Council of SA, she took Mathews under her wing and began training her as a paediatric oncologist.

Mathews said Vermeulen had a tough exterior, but underneath it all she was a real softie.
“Johani can make a plan even when you didn’t know there was a problem yet.
“She is kind and soft-hearted, and I love the way she loves every single one of the children,” Mathews said of her boss.

Vermeulen smiled as she recalls their very first patient, Emihle Xhoma, who has since died.
She points to a picture overlooking her desk of the beautiful, bald-headed little girl.
“She will always hold a special spot in our hearts.
“The biggest thing I have learnt in the past five years is that you can’t do it on your own.
“Everyone who knows us knows that we pray a lot. It’s the only way, because medicine is not always the answer,” Vermeulen said.

Mathews, 37, who matriculated from Collegiate High School in 1999, also grew up in a religious home.
Her father is a minister.
Her dream was to become a musician, but her parents convinced her to study medicine instead.
She submitted her application a day before the deadline and, as fate would have it, she made the cut.

She specialised as a paediatrician at the University of Pretoria in 2008, before returning home and meeting up with Vermeulen.
On April 29 2019, she became the first doctor in the Eastern Cape to study in Port Elizabeth and become a boardcertified paediatric oncologist.

“It can be an awful place if you just look at the negatives.
“But we often find ourselves laughing because the kids are so amazing,” Mathews said.
Masoka, 39, said Mathews was her go-to person.
“What has humbled me the most is that, even when the children don’t make it, the parents often come back to thank us for our support,” Masoka said.

“What they don’t realise is that sometimes these parents are the ones supporting us.”
The only mother in the group, she said having an 11year-old son meant she had to try hard not to let her emotions get in the way, but it had resulted in her taking in more precious moments with her own child.

Originally from Butterworth, she studied medicine at the University of Medunsa in 1998. She did a brief stint at Dora Nginza before moving to Cape Town for a year, where she worked at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, where Eastern Cape children had to go before the Port Elizabeth unit was established.

In 2018, she joined the team at Provincial.
Masoka remembers the exact moment she decided to become a doctor.
“There is always that one girl in class that you want to be like.
“At the age of 11 our teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up.
“This girl put up her hand and said she wanted to become a doctor, so I copied her and said the same thing.
“Needless to say I became the doctor and she did not,” Masoka laughed.
Vermeulen said Masoka brought a sense of calmness and peace to the team. “She has this quiet strength. “It is so assuring to know that she is around.”
Working in a high-stress environment where decisions had to be made in a split second, she said Masoka did not easily become shaken.
Mathews said the mothers played a large role in the lives of their patients.
“A trust relationship needs to be built up with the mother of the child and, being women, we have that motherly instinct.”

Monday, August 5, 2019

Wonder women of SA film and TV

Wonder women of SA film and TV
SA’S film and TV industry is having its golden moment and women are at the forefront. Buhle Mbonambi highlights the four young women who are killing it behind the scenes
·         Sunday Tribune
·         4 Aug 2019
At the recent Durban International Film Festival, Layla Swart’s latest film, Knuckle City opened the festival and received great reviews from attendees, with the lead actor, Bongile Mantsai, winning Best Actor. Swart was the lead producer and editor of the film. She is one of the youngest and most successful film-makers in the country, with critically acclaimed films such as Sew The Winter To My Skin and Of Good Report on her slate. Speaking to her at the festival, she said: “What
I’ve learnt from this journey is that it’s a confidence game and a belief in oneself. Anybody at any age can do this.”


Together with her producing partner and husband, Ivan Botha, Roberts is a powerhouse and her films always tell a story of strong women who make their own decisions. She’s South Africa’s reigning box office queen – her films make millions and she’s somehow found the sweet spot with the local audience. The three films which she co-wrote and produced with Botha, Stroomop, Vir Altyd and Pad Na Jou Hart, cemented her as a major player in the local film industry.

She’s also adamant about creating opportunities for other women in the industry. For last year’s Stroomop, the cast and crew was mostly female, which was important to her.
“I loved that we have the five women leads, I also wrote and produced, and the women in the crew were doing roles many see as only for men. We all rallied around each other and worked hard to make sure the story we told was one we would be proud of and one that the women in our lives would relate to. I loved that it was a safe space for women, one where we could get really deep about our performances and be authentic to the characters,” she said.

Mvusi is one of the young women who are changing the game in the industry. She directed her first feature film, 2018’s Farewell Ella Bella, at 28 and showed age shouldn’t be a factor – if you are good, you should be given the opportunities. Starting out as a writer, she has become one of the most in-demand writer-directors on TV, with her work currently seen on 1Magic’s Grassroots.

Speaking about the industry and how there need to be more women behind the scenes and making key decisions, she said:
“There’s a shift, but a balance is needed and I’m happy that more women are speaking up about the need for films directed by women.
I’m proud that this film has predominantly women in the cast and crew. The narrative needs to change. We need to push for diversity in our film industry.”

From writing on South Africa’s award-winning shows Umlilo and Those Who Can’t, to creating concept for adverts, styling musicians and her photography work, Tisani is a jack who has mastered all her trades. She is respected for her documentary work and was responsible for this year’s most talked about documentary,
Rave & Resistance – The birth of club culture in 90’s Johannesburg, which she directed.
She is one of the most important voices in South Africa’s film and TV industry and her strong, characterdriven content makes her one of the people I firmly believe will change what we consume on screen.

‘A perfect stranger saved my life’

‘A perfect stranger saved my life’
WhatsApp text leads woman to donate kidney to a desperately ill man she had never met
·         Weekend Post (South Africa)
·         3 Aug 2019
·         Catherine Richards
They were perfect strangers. He was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure in the prime of his life and she was a healthy jiujitsu competitor with a love for reptiles.
Little did they know that their lives would forever be intertwined when a mutual friend instigated a conversation about kidney donors.
Former Port Elizabeth resident Jason Kotzen, 41, was diagnosed in 2012 with chronic kidney disease.
At the time, doctors warned him that he would eventually need a new kidney.
As the years went by, his kidney disease progressed into kidney failure and he had to have dialysis to stay alive.
The father of two’s future was bleak.

“If I didn’t get a kidney my life expectancy would have been significantly shorter,” Kotzen said.
“It took quite a while to set up and disconnect from the dialysis machine every night and morning and also it didn’t do a very good job of performing the function of a real kidney.”
Enter Port Elizabeth resident and Bayworld curator of reptiles Varla King, 41.
King heard about Kotzen’s story from a mutual friend, Kelly Rose.

“A mutual friend who went to primary school with Jason sent out a general WhatsApp on 10 August 2018 asking for a kidney for a friend,” she said.
Kotzen said: “I was registered on the waiting list, but I was told that it would take about eight years before a kidney would become available for me from the list.
“Some old friends of mine from Port Elizabeth kept saying that they wanted to get the word out.

“It took me close to a year after they made the offer before I decided to accept it.
“The understanding that dialysis and constantly feeling exhausted – among other symptoms – would be my life definitely helped me to finally accept the help.
“I am a relatively private person and expected no-one to respond to an ask for a kidney, and the thought of being so openly vulnerable was very
scary for me,” Kotzen said.

For King, it was a no-brainer. “I gave it to him because he needed it and I didn’t. The research shows that as long as you are healthy enough you can live perfectly fine with only one kidney,” she said.

Kotzen was overwhelmed by King’s generosity.
“Incredibly, Varla just said yes when she heard my story, before she even met me!”
But the offer of a kidney wasn’t enough. The perfect strangers needed to be compatible. And miraculously, they were.
Kotzen said: “You do need to have a good match. You do take anti-rejection medication for the rest of your life but it’s totally worth it and not a big deal.
“We needed to have compatible blood types, and pass numerous cross-match tests.
“I believe we also did a tissue typing test.”

“At the time of transplant my GFR [a test which doctors use to measure how one’s kidneys are functioning ] was 7%. This is really not good – and of course I was doing dialysis every day. Varla’s was over 100%!”
In order for the transplant to be a success they put it down to having a little bit of magic, so they aptly named the kidney, Merlin.

King said: “My surname is King and Jason’s second name is Arthur, plus we trusted that this kidney would be magic for him, so it was easy to settle on Merlin. I kept Excalibur and his kidneys are so useless they did not deserve names. I do also tease him about the fact that he is now part female!”

The kidney transplant, which happened on July 16 at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre, was a huge success. King arrived back home in good health on July 29.
Before the operation, Kotzen’s quality of life was poor and it really affected his
I gave it to him because he needed it and I didn’t Varla King KIDNEY DONOR
family. “My mom and sister have gone through so much, and it’s been hard on my kids, especially my daughter who is old enough to fully understand and worry.
“It’s also been really difficult for my whole family, and I can say they all supported me so well.

“After the transplant I was so moved to hear my kids telling someone in amazement that ‘Dad doesn’t just sleep all the time. He’s always awake and does stuff with us.’ This gave me more insight into their journey,” Kotzen said.

King’s family and friends had concerns for her.
“A couple were pretty vocal about being worried, and obviously my parents were concerned about something going wrong in surgery, but everyone has been very supportive, especially when I explain that most of the tests I went though were to ensure I was healthy enough to go through this and live a good life afterwards.

“Understanding that the whole thing would be called off if the doctors felt I was going to be compromised in any way, helped most people accept that I wasn’t just recklessly jumping into this without thought.”

The transplant is over, but King and Kotzen are certain they will be lifelong friends.
Kotzen said: “I’ll always be grateful to her! She not only greatly extended my life expectancy, but she also gave me back my quality of life.
“The journey from the time she said ‘yes’, to the time of the transplant was about 11 months. During that time we have become excellent friends and I believe we will be for the rest of our lives.”

King said although she lost a kidney, she gained so much more: “When you are going to put a piece of yourself in someone and save their life, there is obviously a deep bond between you.
“I get on really well with him and his kids. We agree that we definitely won the random kidney twin lottery. He has become as close as a brother.”

This transplant has not slowed King down.

“After recovery, I am so keen to get back on the jiujitsu mats.
“I will not, however, try to rush my recovery because I do understand that by doing that I can end up with complications.”

Kotzen has a new lease on life and can’t wait to live it to the fullest again.
“I don’t remember ever feeling this well. I have so many plans now to do all kinds of things that I previously was not able to do.

“I am incredibly excited to travel, to start running again and to just live life. I also really look forward to camping again and just being the fit and healthy person I used to be.”