UKZN alumnus, Dr Lethiwe Myeza, recently graduated with a Diploma in Anaesthetics despite living with the debilitating and rare condition of Scleroderma. She is currently working in Pietermaritzburg as a Medical Officer in the Anaesthetics Department; undertaking rotations in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) as part of her duties.

Scleroderma is a group of rare autoimmune diseases that may result in changes to the skin, blood vessels, muscles and internal organs. The actual cause is unknown and there is no cure, except lifelong use of medications to suppress one’s immunity thereby reducing inflammation and the various symptoms associated with it. Myeza’s condition is quite progressive and debilitating, preventing her from pursuing a fellowship in Anaesthetics and registering with the Colleges of Medicine as an Anaesthetist. She was diagnosed in 2008 whilst still a Medical student.

‘The deformities on my hands have been making it difficult to do normal chores like zipping and buttoning up, tying shoe laces and holding utensils. Basically, my fine motor function is affected. Exposing my hands to water is another burden on its own. If I do house chores, I wear gloves but the gloves cause pain from frequent vascular ulcers on my hands, so the deformity is quite significant. The hallmark of this disease is tightness, thickening, excessive collagen production, decreased blood flow to the hands which all contributes to the symptoms mentioned above,’ she said.

Myeza is the last born in a family of five children. Her father passed away whilst she was very young and has no memory of him. She was raised by her mother with support from extended family and friends. After matriculating from Dikana High School in the Nkonjeni area in Ulundi, she managed to secure a Department of Health bursary to pursue her studies.

She graduated from UKZN’s Medical School in 2010 and went on to serve her internship at Ladysmith Provincial Hospital, thereafter completing her community service in 2013 at Vryheid District Hospital. Here, she remained until moving to Pietermaritzburg.

She was inspired to pursue a career in Medicine after her grandmother fell ill. ‘When I was still in primary school, my maternal grandmother got sick and at that age I had no idea what she suffered from. All I knew was that she was in pain and suffering and that really hurt me as I felt helpless,’ she said.

‘I remember very clearly that when my aunt and I took her to the nearest clinic for treatment, we had to use a wheelbarrow to transport her. From that experience, I vowed that I would do my best to ensure that none of my loved ones suffered in that manner. Through that experience, together with being inspired by my high school teacher, Miss Mncwabe, I pursued my dream to qualify as a medical doctor,’ added Myeza.

‘I am in a position whereby I have accepted that I’ve got an incurable disease but I feel my story will give someone hope and knowledge that having a terminal illness does not mean the end of you.’

Words: MaryAnn Francis