In South Africa, breast cancer is often detected at late stages. One study found that the average time to diagnose the disease in Cape Town was 8.5 months. After diagnosis, it can take up to four months to undergo a mastectomy.
With long wait times occurring in her own clinic, Dr. Liana Roodt decided to found Project Flamingo so that more women could receive the treatment they need much sooner. With the aggressive nature of cancer, time is of the essence.
“So many operations need to be done quickly, but people were waiting three or four months after diagnosis before they could actually get their surgery done,” Roodt stated.
Roodt found that operating rooms across the country were sitting empty on weekends and holidays, so she sought the funds to pay for facilities and staff on those days. Breast cancer survivors and colleagues of Roodt’s helped her to initially fund this endeavor.
Roodt admits that Project Flamingo took “quite a few years to gain momentum.” It took three years alone to get permission and necessary regulations to begin.
Despite this, over 500 women so far have benefitted from Project Flamingo’s services.
Roodt was able to recruit a team of medical professionals to help the cause. So far, Project Flamingo has 10 surgical professionals, 10 anesthetists, and 10 volunteers who work in different hospitals where the mastectomies are performed.
The project completes 15 surgeries a month. Depending on income, patients might pay a small fee, but the surgery is covered by Project Flamingo.
Because of Project Flamingo, the backlog at Roodt’s clinic in Groote Schuur, a state-funded hospital, has gone from 12 weeks to two to four weeks.
It has also reached Tygerberg Hospital, where one woman, Anne Borg, was able to receive a mastectomy because of the project.
“I don’t have medical insurance, and so I couldn’t afford everything that was going on. All the tests needed. You can get them quicker if you do it privately. At the public hospital, there are always between 20 to 30 people waiting ahead of you,” Borg stated. When her friend referred her to Project Flamingo, she was able to get the treatment she needed.
Additionally, Project Flamingo connects newly-diagnosed patients with survivors, like Borg, to offer mentorship and shoulder to lean on during a very difficult time.
Roodt has expanded the project to cover different cancers, such as colorectal cancer and even complications that arise from cancer as well.
Dr. Liana Roodt’s dedication to providing women with the care they need has revolutionized the very nature of mastectomies in South Africa. Because of her, many women have been able to receive surgery that has potentially saved their lives and allowed them to continue living in the way they want to.
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