Healthcare crisis? This doctor is saving lives with free surgery


If Doctor Liana Roodt’s time in the operating theatre has taught her one thing, it’s that effective treatment for breast cancer goes beyond surgery. Hospitals across the country are desperately short on resources, so the waiting period for a mastectomy can be a long, agonising process that adds to a patient’s stress. Roodt has taken it upon herself to change the experience by reducing the waiting time for patients to be placed on the surgery list. She does this by offering to operate for free, while also providing mentorship and pamper packs that ease the recovery process.

Roodt first noticed the strain on theatre and staff resources while working as a surgical medical officer in 2010. The backlog affected how quickly breast cancer patients were treated, with the wait for a mastectomy coming to about 12 weeks. Over a glass of wine with friends, Roodt realised that she wanted to do better. She offered to operate for free, and her friends mobilised, raising funds for additional theatre time and nursing staff. Their efforts meant that recently-diagnosed patients could have surgery as early as two weeks later, and so Project Flamingo was launched at Groote Schuur Hospital.

Once a week, the team meets with breast cancer patients who have just been diagnosed to distribute pamper packs. These include toiletries, snacks, magazines, educational material and a mastectomy pillow which helps to reduce pain, pressure and chafing post-surgery. To address the loneliness and lack of support that some patients face, Project Flamingo also connects cancer survivors with new patients to provide mentorship and support before and after surgery. Roodt has since joined a private practice, which enables her to dedicate more of her time to Project Flamingo while still consulting twice a week at Groote Schuur. Last year, over 100 people with breast cancer benefited from free mastectomies thanks to Roodt. Her efforts to reduce the time between diagnosis and surgery is giving hope and improving the journey for the brave survivors of breast cancer.