Training to help KwaZulu-Natal children fight cancer


Dr Kershinee Reddy has received a Discovery Foundation Sub-Specialist Award to study Paediatric Oncology at Stellenbosch University. She’s determined to return to KwaZulu-Natal after her training to help children fight cancer.

Should a paediatric-oncologist post be available in KwaZulu-Natal when she completes her training, paediatrician Dr Kershinee Reddy will grab it with both hands.

The Western Cape is currently the only province with accreditation for paediatric oncology training and in 2019, Dr Reddy started her training at Tygerberg Hospital. Before this, she worked as a paediatrician at Edendale Hospital, where she and her colleagues referred cancer patients to Grey’s Tertiary Hospital in Pietermaritzburg. This hospital established a haematology oncology unit in 2013, staffed by one paediatric oncologist and one paediatric haematologist. Both these specialists have since left Grey’s Hospital.

“The oncology workload is very high in KwaZulu-Natal. Sometimes they’re overrun at Albert Luthuli Hospital,” Dr Reddy explains. “The paediatric haematologist from Albert Luthuli comes to the Grey’s Hospital haematology oncology unit twice a week. This unit now only has children receiving chemotherapy and some who have completed treatment and need follow-up. The majority of our new patients at Edendale Hospital are referred to Durban.”

Growing adept at adapting

Growing up in Chatsworth, Durban, Dr Reddy always wanted to do medicine. Her straight-A performance in matric was, however, not enough for a university acceptance to become a doctor. She started out studying pharmacy and after graduating, she was accepted to study medicine at Wits. She realised her dream of becoming a doctor in 2008. “Pharmacy wasn’t fulfilling in terms of patient care, so when the opportunity came to do medicine, I went for it. I really enjoy the patient interaction and helping people.”

Her interest in paediatrics began while doing her community service year at Piet Retief Hospital in Mpumalanga, after which she joined the registrar programme at Grey’s and Edendale Hospital in Pietermaritzburg and Albert Luthuli Hospital in Durban.

The emotional impact of working with children

Dr Reddy says the downside of paediatrics is seeing sexual abuse cases and having to take the sexual assault history and carry out the examination. “It’s one of the worst things I’ve ever done. It’s demotivating that people could be so cruel to children.”

“Sometimes you do everything you can for a child and they still don’t make it,” Dr Reddy says. “Then you have to tell the family that their child has brain stem death and is going to die; or tell a 13-year-old with bone cancer that we found it was spreading everywhere.” It is after experiences like these that she calls her sister, Deshinee, a nursing manager of the cardiac catheterisation and pain management laboratories at a New Orleans hospital.

“She understands and, together with my parents, always has encouraging words of support. Of course, my friends and colleagues in the same field are another great resource. We understand one another, but we still have to assess and remember why we’re doing it.”

Her mother is a primary school teacher and her father a corporate paint buyer. Together, they taught her and her sister a strong work ethic. “They instilled in us the importance of education and made sure we were educated and could stand on our own two feet. I put my continuing studying directly down to them,” she adds. Thousands of patients in KwaZulu-Natal who are struggling with oncology diagnoses, access to treatment, challenging therapy and survivorship will certainly be thankful to the Reddy family in years to come.

Helping KwaZulu-Natal’s children

Dr Reddy worked as a general paediatrician for two and a half years at Edendale Hospital near Pietermaritzburg, at the height of the oncology services crisis. She noticed many children admitted to Edendale Hospital’s general paediatric ward with signs and symptoms suggesting cancer, with initial investigations pointing towards such a diagnosis. “I want to complete this training for myself, but also for the children. These kids are already subjected to the trauma of a cancer diagnosis and then they have to travel far for treatment, either to Pietermaritzburg or Durban.”

About the Discovery Foundation

Each year, the Discovery Foundation gives five different awards to outstanding individual and institutional awardees in the public healthcare sector.

The Discovery Foundation is an independent trust with a clear focus to strengthen the healthcare system by making sure that more people have access to specialised healthcare services.

Since 2006, the Discovery Foundation has invested more than R230 million in training and support for more than 400 medical specialists and institutions. The grants support academic research and clinical science, sub-specialist training, rural medicine as well as programmes to develop public healthcare resources. For 2019, Discovery Foundation awarded 42 grants to medical specialists working in South Africa’s healthcare sector to the value of R27 million.

Learn more and apply for the 2020 Discovery Foundation Awards.

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