Professor Bongani Mayosi: A Giant Falls
Healing hearts and making history were among the many achievements of the late Professor Bongani Mayosi, UKZN medical alumnus and University of Cape Town’s Faculty of Health Sciences Dean.
UKZN alumni recently gathered at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine to celebrate the life of Mayosi, an extraordinary man who was a cardiologist by profession.
On 27 July, while South Africans from all communities gathered with their loved ones to view the total eclipse of the moon, the South African academic community was devastated by news that Mayosi had passed on.
The cause of death was first thought to be cardiac arrest. A renowned cardiologist, Mayosi and his research team made international headlines last year for identifying a new gene that is a major cause of sudden death through heart failure suffered by young people and athletes.
However, the following morning, the medical fraternity was shocked to hear that the cause of Mayosi’s death had been suicide as a result of clinical depression.
Professor Ncoza Dlova, a classmate of Mayosi’s and UKZN’s Dean of the School of Clinical Medicine recalled that fateful evening. ‘The news that Bongani, our brother, our friend and our mentor had passed on are words that I will never forget. It broke me and left me asking why?’
‘The manner in which Bongani has passed on hurts more,’ said Dr Joe Phaahla, Deputy Health Minister. ‘There are so many questions but most of all there’s a lot of blame. It is so difficult to reconcile the reality but it is important for us to support his family. Let’s pick up the baton and run the race to improve the health of all our people, including each other as medical professionals,’ said Phaahla.
Professor Busisiwe Ncama, UKZN’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College Health Sciences, said, ‘Depression is a silent killer and we must address this for all healthcare professionals.’
Head of UKZN’s Department of Psychiatry, Professor Bonginkosi Chiliza said clinical depression affects 20 percent of South Africans.
Said Dr Suvira Ramlall, psychiatrist and academic leader of Registrars at UKZN, ‘Death is a certainty that we don’t anticipate and cannot prepare for or accept. We need to confront suicide in the medical fraternity. In the United States, 400 doctors commit suicide annually. Bongani’s death must be a wake-up call to us that we need to restore a holistic approach to how we practice medicine and we should encourage young doctors to live healthy, happy lives. Let’s spread the message that it’s okay to acknowledge our vulnerabilities. Let’s also seek the same high standards of treatment that we give to our patients and more importantly, lead the way to the destigmatisation of mental illnesses,’ said Ramlall.
Dr Brian Vezi, a UKZN alumnus and a cardiac electro-physiologist, spoke about his time with Mayosi, ‘We cannot understand why but we are learning to accept his death. He inspired all of us to reach our full potential. He gave us a sense of belonging and pride but ensured that he was always inclusive. Let’s aspire to be the same’.
An emotional Professor Thumbi Ndung’u, Scientific Director at UKZN’s HIV Pathogenesis Programme and Programme Director for the Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence, said, ‘As we serve humanity, let’s ensure that we do it with a spirit of camaraderie. Bongani was an inspirational leader with an indomitable spirit. Above all else, he was a wonderful human being. Are we as institutions of higher learning doing enough to improve the well-being of our colleagues by creating conducive environments to live in as human beings who have families and loved ones? Let’s rally together to see what it is that we can do to make the Medical School and South Africa a better place.’
Mayosi joined the Medical School whilst aged 15 and graduated seven years later with two degrees, cum laude. ‘Bongani made an exemplary contribution to the healthcare sector,’ said UKZN’s Professor Mergan Naidoo, who is also Chair of the South African Medical Association. ‘A giant has fallen and his death has left a gaping void in South Africa. Let us always remember him for the inspiring, warm and compassionate person he was,’ said Naidoo.
Words: MaryAnn Francis