FEEL GOOD | Meet the Cape Town doctor who gives women free breast cancer surgery, she believes 'you have the right to be looked after'

Dr Liana Roodt, founder of Project Flamingo. (Photo by Gallo Images / Rapport / Conrad Bornman)
Dr Liana Roodt, founder of Project Flamingo. (Photo by Gallo Images / Rapport / Conrad Bornman)

The surgeon who practices in Cape Town believes equal access to quality health care is a sign of a healthy democracy.

Dr Roodt’s Project Flamingo, a non-profit company, provides surgeries to breast cancer patients, with an aim to reduce the surgical waiting time in public health care.

In addition to this, the psychological support needed to go through this challenging period is included in the free treatment.   

Project Flamingo currently services patients at Tygerberg Hospital and Groote Schuur Hospital where the waiting time for breast-conserving or mastectomy surgery is between 10 and 12 weeks.

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“The obvious solution was that we needed theatre time, so it was just how to go about creating the theatre time,” says Dr Liana. “The solution was to buy more theatre time, which is really how it started. I brainstormed with friends on how to raise the funds, to recruit volunteers etc.”

She says while women are the majority of those affected by breast cancer, project Flamingo does help anybody with breast cancer.

“When you know that something is wrong and that you can’t get the help that you need, it’s got a massive impact not just on the physical leve but also psychologically it is terrifying walking around with something that you know needs to be sorted out and you can’t access care,” says Dr Roodt.

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She adds that not having access to quality health care has a great impact on women and their families, because women have children and are often the sole breadwinner. By extension, the community is affected as well.

If you’re worried about something, seek care and if you can’t find it, demand it! You and your health are important, you have the right to care and you’ve got the right to be looked after.
Dr Liana Roodt

“The impact is massive and we have a very long way to go in terms of making care accessible to patients... that whole process really needs to be looked at,” she adds.

The model of Project Flamingo has been used in a few projects already but Dr Roodt hopes health care professionals in other parts of the country can follow her example to help catch up the public health care system.

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She says it may not be a very complex idea but the process is quite complicated and she’d be open to assisting anyone who would like to replicate it.

In a broad summary, Dr Liana relays the steps to achieve an initiative with a model similar to Project Flamingo:

“First of all, [get] a group of volunteers who are committed to the cause because you’re asking of them to give their skills and be kind for free, and it’s a huge commitment. Secondly, tell the story of the patients and get as much word of mouth to help raise funds. And of course, get all the role players on board, from the government health care sector to other role players in health – your medical aids, your private hospitals – all of those role players could potentially be mobilised.”

There are two things that are a sign of a healthy democracy for me, it’s equal access to healthcare and to education. I feel very strongly about it, I think all of us do.
Dr Liana Roodt

Dr Roodt believes providing access to health care falls on everybody’s shoulders and that’s the ethos behind Project Flamingo.

“At Project Flamingo we’re trying to do our tiny bit to help and we hope that by the example we are setting other people will follow suit and that all of us will realise that healthcare is everybody’s problem," she says.

"It’s not just government’s responsibility, it’s not just private healthcare’s responsibility, it’s everybody’s responsibility because if you’re in a situation [where you need] help, you would want other people and the society around you to step up. So that’s the premise in which we work."

Offering a message to women Dr Roodt says, “The one thing I would want [women] to know is that it [breast cancer] is beatable and it doesn’t have to be a death sentence. If you’re worried about something, seek care and if you can’t find it, demand it! You and your health are important, you have the right to care and you’ve got the right to be looked after.”

Have you or a loved one been diagnosed with a life-changing illness and overcome? Share your story with us here.

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