One of the toughest aspects to deal with, as a practising heart surgeon, is the emotional and psychological toll experienced when a patient dies. This is according to Namibia’s first black heart surgeon, Dr Jones Nghaamwa, who says even as a professional he has not yet learnt how to deal with the devastation and anguish of the grieving process.
Nghaamwa mentioned this while sharing his outstanding highlights and challenges of his six-year journey after becoming the first black cardiothoracic surgeon. Nghaamwa, who was born and raised in the Ohangwena region at Oipapakane village, says his career highlights are plentiful, both pleasant and painful, hilarious and momentous.
“Naturally, I tend to remember failure the most. Perhaps because cases with adverse outcomes offer immense lessons for self-improvement and reflection. Loss of life remains one of the hardest things about medicine that I never really learnt how to deal with and quickly move through the grieving stages," he stated.
Nonetheless, Nghaamwa said the highlights of his career are the many people who are living improved lives because of surgical intervention. “Our most notable highlights, therefore, are the many Namibians for whom we alleviated their suffering, because of heart disease and improved their prognosis,” he said.
In addition, Nghaamwa career’s climax is inspiring many Namibian students, who are now pursuing medical careers after being exposed to what he does.
After completing his training in 2013 at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, Nghaamwa worked at Inkosi Albert Lithuli Central Hospital in South Africa as a junior consultant surgeon. The following year, Nghaamwa joined the cardiac surgical unit at the Windhoek Central Hospital, which he describes as an undeniable achievement of the Namibian government. He said it is imperative to give credit to the visionary leadership of the government for inaugurating the unit in 2010.
Nghaamwa is doing a fellowship abroad to receive further in-depth training.
Asked how his six-year journey, as heart surgeon, has been, he replied: “Enlightened fulfilment is how I would describe the last six years of my career. It has been a personal journey of sacrifice, learning and discovery, pushing boundaries and an inexorable desire to deliver world-class cardiac and thoracic (heart and lung) surgical services to the Namibian nation.”
Nghaamwa also added inspiring young people and reassuring them of their infinite potential and abilities as another highlight of his career. Nghaamwa said, on request, he availed himself to be shadowed by high school students some of whom went on to study medicine and would probably become future heart surgeons. He also facilitated for a young doctor, who has nearly completed his studies, to receive specialist training in heart surgery.
“It is evident that this journey as a heart surgeon has influenced multiple dimensions of not only my personal life but also the lives of others,” he said. He added that many students, including international visitors, passed through the cardiac unit for attachment or just to witness an open-heart surgery.
“Overall, the journey has been fulfilling and I wouldn’t trade it for any another. Seeing the smile on patient’s faces following successful surgery encourages me to keep on doing my best. Despite the sacrifices on my personal life, spending little time with family and friends, helping to improve patient’s quality of life resonates with a purposeful life. Through my [career], I found joy, fulfilment, purpose and love.”
Nghaamwa also said when attending international symposiums, he sees himself as a Namibian ambassador, as he often receives special acknowledgment and seniors take interest in him because of the way he interacts with them and simply being Namibian.
He said something that has remained close to his heart is the beaming proud smile that he gets from his parents. He attributed his success to the value his parents instilled in him and their visionary encouragement.
“Especially my dad, Tate Usko Nghaamwa who interestingly nudges me on saying ‘you are not a doctor until you can operate on the heart’. And, of course, my Queen Meme Lucia Nghaamwa. This is my story, so I will tell it forever until my voice is no more,” he proudly said.
No career comes without challenges and, for Nghaamwa, he said one of the challenges he encountered was from detractors and condescending individuals, who always try to cast a shadow over people’s light. He said: “Unfortunately for them, I refused to allow my light to be dimmed or be intimidated.”
Secondly, he said, it was a challenge for people to accept a culture of high performance and intolerance for laziness when working with him. Nghaamwa shared how he was labelled too strict, demanding and many other things, but with time most of the people understood the relationship between outcomes and meticulousness. He said sometimes they do not get any credit but their credit is (someone) sitting somewhere in the vast land of Namibia knowing they have made a difference in their life.
Nghaamwa also stated that Namibia has a very young medical school, which, although willing to assist, has the current challenge of creating medical education programmes and academic support for specialists.
Lastly, he said there is an ever-present challenge of expanding cardiac surgery services to provide a wider range of diagnostic and treatment options. He stated lack of human capital, limited financial resources, infrastructural shortcomings and the lack of technology as challenges the growth of the cardiac surgery services.
He said the Windhoek Central Hospital cardiac unit recently expanded its services to include surgery for complex heart diseases of children as two new skilled professionals returned from training. He said together with the government they continue to strive to overcome these challenges and ensure the future generation’s cardiac and thoracic healthcare needs are met.
Furthermore, Nghaamwa said, “As Namibia turns 30, pledge your abilities and dedicate your energies to be catalysts for positive change by making a difference in your communities and the nation at large. Forget not that true individual prosperity is dependent on our collective prosperity.” ?