A nurse from Port Elizabeth’s National Renal Car (NRC) unit at Nectar Cuyler Hospital in Uitenhage drove two patients 800km from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town to receive kidney transplants.

In March, two patients, Cally Williams aged 25 and another patient, who has chosen to remain anonymous, received the thrilling news that suitable donor kidneys were available. However, they were required to be in Cape Town the very next day to receive the kidneys, as donor kidneys have to be transplanted within a certain strict timeframe.

Williams’ primary caregiver and aunt Merican Heilbron says that her niece had been on the waiting list for a transplant for over five years.

“My niece, Cally Williams, has been reliant on dialysis for many years after suffering kidney failure. She has been on the waiting list for a donor kidney since 2013, and when that telephone call finally came we were overcome with emotion. For our family, this was nothing short of a miracle.”

Williams had been undergoing dialysis at the hospital.

Senior nurse at the hospital, Salome Siebritz, who provides acute dialysis to patients in Port Elizabeth, has known Williams for all of her years of dialysis and was thrilled to hear that she would receive a transplant.

“I was at home on the evening when my colleagues phoned to give me the news, and we discussed the logistics of how the two patients would reach Cape Town in time to undergo transplant surgery,” she says.

Williams and the other patient were unable to travel by plane as the last flight from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town was due to take off a mere 30 minutes after they received the life-changing news.

With Siebritz’s main focus being to ensure that Williams and the other patient received the kidney transplants, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

“There was not a moment to lose, and I immediately phoned Cally to make travelling arrangements as I was concerned that she would miss this opportunity, and had decided that I would drive her to Cape Town myself.”

Staff from the Nectar Cuyler Hospital came together to help Siebritz and the two patients, raising enough money for petrol to travel the long distance.

“I called the NRC unit to request petty cash for the petrol money we would need for the 800km drive, and the staff all expressed their desire to contribute towards the costs of the journey. They spontaneously started a collection, and everyone, from the doctors to the cleaning staff, as well as a number of patients, were eager to make donations to help our two kidney recipients reach Cape Town in time,” says Siebritz.

Beginning the journey at 9pm, Siebritz set off in the car for Cape Town with both patients and Williams’ aunt. For a gruelling eight hours, Siebritz and Heilbron took turns behind the wheel.

Netcare’s transplant co-ordinator, Alexia Michaelides, gave Siebritz directions to Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital, and the group arrived with just half an hour to spare before Williams’ surgery.

“We were totally lost driving into Cape Town, and I was so grateful to Alexia because she guided us right to the hospital… Alexia also arranged that a nurse from the hospital would to be ready to drive the other patient to the nearby Groote Schuur Hospital as soon as we arrived. It was a huge relief to realise that we had made it in time,” says Siebritz.

Michaelides comments on how the nurse’s efforts to get both patients to their procedures in time are reflective of the community spirit of Port Elizabeth.

“It was critical for both patients that they reached the hospitals within the strict timeframe for the transplants to be viable. Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of Sr Siebritz and everyone who donated funds towards their travel, they were able to reach the hospital in time. I am also from Port Elizabeth originally, and there really is a strong community spirit among people from this part of the world,” she says.

Heilbron expressed her gratitude to the donor who saved her niece’s life.

“As a family, our most profound thanks goes to the donor, who during their lifetime made the decision to offer others a chance at life through registering as an organ donor. Although we do not know the donor’s name, we will forever give our thanks for the donor and the donor’s family, who at the most painful time had the generosity of spirit to honour their loved one’s wish for organs to be donated so that other people could live.”

The funds raised by the Nectar Cuyler Hospital for the group’s trip to Cape Town were enough to cover a flight back for Williams once she had recovered after surgery, as well as transport for the other patient back to PE.

Chief Executive Officer of NRC Robert Souter has commended Siebritz and her colleagues for going the extra mile for their patients.

“Our staff are always committed to ensuring the well-being of our patients, and many form a special bond with the patients they assist with dialysis over the years. When a kidney becomes available and is a match for one of our patients, we recognise the importance of the opportunity for them – it is no exaggeration to say that it can make the difference between life and death,” Souter says. 

Left to right) Following Cally Williams’ successful kidney transplant, Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital nurse Margaret Dankers, who cared for Cally in hospital, is pictured with National Renal Care’s Sr Salome Siebritz; the patient’s aunt, Mercia Heilbron; and Netcare’s transplant co-ordinator, Alexia Michaelides.

Picture: National Renal Care and Netcare, Siebritz and Williams

Article written by

Ishani Chetty

Ishani is a vegetarian who is passionate about animals, social issues, the environment and current affairs.