Heart surgeon wins top award for humanitarian work

Dr Wilhelm Lichtenberg

Dr Wilhelm Lichtenberg

Published Apr 21, 2024


Dr Wilhelm Lichtenberg, the founder of NGO Young Hearts Africa, has won a Thoracic Surgery Foundation Every Heartbeat Matters (EHM) Award.

The award recognises the work done by those who conduct humanitarian surgical outreach work in underserved regions with indigent populations around the world. Of the 14 global awards given, Dr Lichtenberg is the only African recipient.

Young Hearts Africa, established in 2021, has to date provided life-saving surgery for 30 children with congenital heart disease (CHD), in partnership with the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town.

Over 4 000 of the 13 000 children born in South Africa with CHD need surgery in order to survive, yet less than 800 of these operations are conducted in the public sector, given the dire lack of facilities and specialists, combined with the enormous costs involved.

The Foundation works tirelessly to highlight the plight of these children and to raise funds to enable more life-saving surgeries to take place.

This award is sponsored by Edwards Lifesciences Foundation, a global leader in structural heart disease and critical care monitoring.

Dr Lichtenberg recently returned from attending the Edwards Foundation EHM Partners Summit in Californiato share knowledge and innovation in benefiting patient care.

This accolade also sees a US$23 000 (about R440 000) grant given to the Foundation, which will be used to benefit Young Hearts Africa.

By partnering with over 70 patient and cardiac-focused charitable partners around the world, the Edwards Life sciences Foundation has to date invested more than US$37 million to impact the lives of underserved patients, with the goal of improving the lives of 2.5 million additional underserved structural heart and critical care patients by the end of 2025.

“It was quite a remarkable experience to be able to learn from people who have been in the humanitarian surgical outreach sphere for many years and to recognise the myriad similar challenges faced in trying to achieve our goals. The opportunities for collaboration of efforts are numerous…,” Dr Lichtenberg says.

Dr Lichtenberg is also in preliminary discussions with various role players and funders to develop a cardiothoracic training facility in Cape Town to increase the disproportionate physician to patient ratio that exists and to expand cardiology and cardiac surgery programmes in Africa.

The patron of the YHA Foundation is former Public Protector Professor Thuli Madonsela.

Legendary rock band Queen’s guitarist, Sir Brian May, with whom the “Singing Surgeon” recorded a music video to mark the launch of the YHA Foundation in 2021, is a passionate YHA ambassador, along with rugby legends Corne Krige and John Smit.

“Ambitious and innovative fundraising programmes are under way to ensure the continuation and expansion of the current projects, including increasing access to medical care for more children born with CHD, whilst at the same time creating opportunities for research and training to address the severe skills shortage. The one hand washes the other,” Dr Lichtenberg said.

Young Hearts Africa was also the recipient of the 2023 Conscious Companies Award, which recognises and celebrates conscious, ethical leaders and their organisations who align people, planet, profit and purpose in service of all stakeholders.

Dr Lichtenberg will attend the upcoming Conscious Companies Leadership Summit in Johannesburg in May as a panelist on the discussions on how to guide societies in the uncertain times which lie ahead for our country and for the rest of the African continent.

Weekend Argus