Critical Care


Dr Marius Barnard


Surgeons are often portrayed as “doctors without a bedside manner”. Doctors who prefer to see their patients asleep or unconscious. And probably that’s true for some, but not the majority.

Years ago I was talking to a work colleague who mentioned that she had been born with a congenital heart defect, and that she had required major heart surgery as a young child. She said her surgeon had kept in touch with her over the years. Not because she had a medical problem, he just wanted to know how she was doing. Her surgeon was Marius Barnard, one of the Barnard brothers (Christiaan Barnard being the other) who were pioneers of open-heart surgery, and who performed the first successful human heart transplant.

I was reminded of this story the other day when I looked up Marius Barnard (I had just seen a television interview with him), and found out something that I didn’t know about him.  He was the person that convinced the South African medical insurance companies to introduce a new type of insurance to cover critical illnesses. That is huge. It took a surgeon, not the financial organizations, to recognize that the cost of major surgery and critical care was beyond the means of most people.  And that this may result in financial ruin for those patients and their families, or even mean that they would not be able to receive the treatment and care they needed.

As quoted in one interview:

”When I perform a coronary heart bypass, my patients survive between five and 10 years. I had never realized what we were doing. We give them years but we give them hell because of the increased costs of living.” He explains that when patients undergo severe operations or suffer critical illnesses such as cancer, heart attack, stroke or coronary heart bypass surgery, not only is their lifestyle suddenly more expensive but their ability to earn also diminishes significantly.

With the costs of medical insurance today, all many people do have (if they have medical insurance at all) is a “hospital plan” i.e. critical care cover.  Over the last couple of years I have known several people who have needed major surgery, and I was staggered to find out what the costs of those surgeries and their aftercare was.  Luckily for these people they were able to benefit from Marius Barnard’s foresight, and his care for his patients. And lucky for them too that they had surgeons who were just as caring.


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Categories: Health/Healthcare


I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at and (my photoblog)


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2 Comments on “Critical Care”

  1. GeoRoMancer
    August 23, 2010 at 10:08 am #

    An important topic, even for those of us who are fairly healthy and have not – yet – had major surgery. In most Western countries (AFAIK), the cost of paying your medical insurance is becoming prohibitive.
    Germany, for example, used to be envied for its comprehensive medical aid scheme and wonderful social welfare system. In recent years, successive health ministers have tried to stem the costs of the health service by cutting benefits, increasing the monthly premium paid by salaried staff, and introducing all sorts of fees. It’s nice to know that, should you ever need expensive surgery, it won’t cost you an arm or a leg (ooops, maybe I should rephrase that …), but you pay through the nose beforehand!

  2. August 23, 2010 at 4:17 pm #

    “With the costs of medical insurance today, all many people do have (if they have medical insurance at all) is a “hospital plan” i.e. critical care cover.”

    This is very true. Those in the lower income brackets either can’t afford medical insurance at all, or they go for the budget-type insurance which has lots of fine print (basically, benefit exclusions), to buy themselves “peace of mind”. Medical insurance can be a tricky business.

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