FEEL GOOD | Cape Town man survives fish tank cleaning injury after emergency op

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The fish tank valve that Dr Bilal Gafoor removed from Shaafie Abrahams' airway.
The fish tank valve that Dr Bilal Gafoor removed from Shaafie Abrahams' airway.
Melomed Gatesville
  • A Cape Town man survived a fish tank cleaning injury after an emergency operation to remove a valve he swallowed by accident.
  • He battled to breathe as the valve was lodged in his airway and on the way to hospital almost got a traffic fine.
  • He is making a full recovery after the emergency bronchoscopy, according to his doctor.


Shaafie Abrahams was setting up a fish tank for tropical fish when he accidentally swallowed a valve and ended up on the operating table in hospital.

He wanted to treat his son by setting up an old empty tank they had, when things went awry.

Chuckling over the phone, he explained that it was the first time ever he had set up a fish tank, and was trying to get a valve loose from a pipe.

"I tried to remove the valve, but being 'clever' enough, I actually sucked it up," he said.

At first he coughed to try and dislodge it, but he felt it going further down his airway.

Battling to breathe, he and his equally alarmed wife rushed to their GP for help.

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"He said, 'Dude, there is nothing I can do'," said Abrahams, who was put on a nebuliser to help him breathe while an emergency call was made to Melomed Gatesville to prepare them for Abrahams' arrival.

On the way, a traffic officer stopped them for driving in the emergency lane. The wary officer said he would go with them to hospital to ensure it was not a fishy tale to get out of a traffic fine.

Abrahams had to undergo an emergency bronchoscopy after arriving at the hospital short of breath.

Pulmonologist Bilal Gafoor, who spent much of 2020 doctoring Covid-19 patients, performed an emergency bronchoscopy.

However, the valve kept evading the pincer forceps, moving further down Abrahams' airway, but eventually it was secured and pulled out.

Abrahams said he has had a successful recovery and was grateful to Gafoor. The fish are also fine.

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