Help children’s hospital stay alive

Deep in the heart of Newlands, there is a paediatric orthopaedic hospital performing over 550 life-changing operations every year and nursing many more children back to good health.

At first you wouldn’t realise what was behind the doors of the Maitland Cottage Children’s Orthopaedic Hospital.

The signage posted around the hospital suggests that it’s only a home for children, but what remains largely unknown is that the hospital is one of the most prominent paediatric orthopaedic hospitals in Africa.

Chairman of the hospital, Julie Scott, agreed that nobody around the facility knew that a children’s hospital was right on their doorstep, but admitted signage was a bit “misleading” as well.

“We have a woman that literally lives two houses away who was absolutely shocked to discover that there is a children’s hospital in this community. This makes it hard to get support and help for the hospital, which is much needed right now,” she said.

Maitland Cottage Home, as it’s current signage suggests, is a government-funded hospital that specialises in the medical and surgical treatment of children with physical disability due to disease or accidents.

Some of the ailments treated include osteitis, which involves bone inflammation or infection; acute osteomyelitis as a result of malnutrition; osteogenesis imperfecta which is brittle bone disease; Spina Bifida and complications such as meningomyelocoele, often resulting in paralysis of the lower limbs; fractures often requiring long-term traction of up to six weeks due to the soft bones of the young patients; Bone TB, which requires up to nine months of continuous treatment; and orthopaedic disability due to cerebal palsy where orthopaedic intervention is required.

“We have had plenty of children referred to us by the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital as well, but with their funding being cut, we unfortunately suffer as well and it makes things exceptionally hard for us,” Ms Scott said.

In the early 1900s, there were no orthopaedic departments in any of the Cape Town hospitals and only few orthopaedic surgeons.

Children suffering with long-term orthopaedic conditions, could not be accommodated as in-patients and were eventually sent home in plaster beds, frames or splints and calipers, but this had negative implications, as voluntary workers found most children severely neglected.

The plight of these children was raised in December 1929 by the Cape Town Society for the Protection of Child Life, which led to money being raised to help them. Two cottages were rented in the Maitland Garden Village, called “Maitland Cottage Homes”, and initially accommodated only seven children.

By 1938, there were already 64 children in the homes and two years later, the Maitland Cottage Home was recognised as a hospital.

Soon the cottages were no longer suitable for the care of these patients and fundraising initiatives were launched for a new hospital building.

It was in March 1952 that the hospital was built at its current location, in Kildare Road, Newlands, which was called the Maitland Cottage Home for Disabled Children, accommodating 85 children.

Four years later, Martin Singer from the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in London joined his brother, Alec, as honorary consultants and the operating theatre started functioning on a regular basis. In 1973, a Dr AW Husband replaced Alec and was helped by the services of honorary anaesthetists, pathologists and medical officers while all the X-rays were taken at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.

In 1977, the facility became an integral part of the Orthopaedic Department of the University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital, with registrars being allocated to the Maitland Cottage Home.

Between 1977 and 1987, operations increased by 900% and admissions by 320%, resulting in a more sophisticated theatre becoming essential and in 1988, a 40 sqaure metre state-of-the-art theatre was built, headed by Professor Teddy Hoffman and his team, including Dr Stewart Dix-Peek, which took over as head of surgery.

“Together with Dr Stewart Dix-Peek and Dr Louis Sparks they covered the complete spectrum of paediatric orthopaedics. Eminent orthopaedic surgeons, international professors and several groups such as the ABC Travelling Fellows, the American Outreach Orthopaedic Group and the German Orthopaedic Fellows have all visited the hospital,” Ms Scott said.

An international funder that had been injecting a substantial amount of money into the hospital pulled the plug in 2014, leaving the hospital scrambling around for donors or monetary contributions due to the shortfall of money.

It’s 2016 now and hospital management plans to make a fresh start, firstly eyeing the signage around the facility and ensuring that Maitland Cottage Children’s Orthopaedic Hospital becomes a household name.

On Friday June 10, they made another change to an empty space which young recovering patients saw through their window. It became the home to a new lemon tree, donated by Trees for Africa.

Tamara Drake is one of those residents who only recently discovered the hospital, but since her first visit, she cannot seem to stay away, offering her time as a volunteer.

“The hospital is extremely well run and offers a warm environment for the children, but what struck me was the huge grassed quadrant around which the hospital is built which all of the children’s beds look onto. These children have come from all over the country for operations with some being bed-bound for weeks if not months. Their beds look onto the quad and this is all they see while in bed,” she said.

Ms Drake made it her mission to make the quadrant more visually appealing for the sake of the children, contacting a number of tree companies and Trees for Africa were only too happy to help.

“I have a child of my own and I just became very interested in this hospital from the very first time I visited. The hospital needs the help, because they are offering such a great service to the public, helping kids from all over,” she said.

The hospital’s main fundraising effort comes through the Maitland Cottage Home Society, which raises funds to help maintain and expand the services and facilities the hospital offers. Visit or visit Maitland Cottage Childrens Orthopaedic Hospital on Facebook for more information.