Neurosurgeons set aside a week to deal with cranioplasty backlog

A general view of George Mukhari Academic Hospital. Photo: Gallo Images/Lefty Shivambu)

A general view of George Mukhari Academic Hospital. Photo: Gallo Images/Lefty Shivambu)


The department of neurosurgery at Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital, situated north of Pretoria, is embarking on an initiative to help more than 100 patients who are waiting for cranioplasty operations.

Dr Nomthandazo Dube, a neurosurgeon at the hospital, said the operation was considered to be a cosmetic procedure. Emergency surgeries or procedures would always take precedence over cranioplasty, often leading to a backlog like the one being addressed now.

A cranioplasty is a surgical procedure used to correct a defect in the bone of the skull.

Dube said:

These defects in the bone may be congenital – meaning that people were born with a defect in the skull – or as a result of injury/trauma to the head or from a previous operation where a part of the bone from the skull was removed.

She said the initiative would run from August 15 to 19 and the aim was to make it a biannual event.

“Growing up, we often heard of people having had a piece of iron inserted in their heads, and jokes would be made in the communities about their head getting hot when the sun shines on them. Times and technology have evolved. We are now able to do a CT scan of the defect and create a mould that is the same shape and size of the defect, thus creating a perfect fit over the defect, so that no one would ever know that the patient had once had a defect in that area,” she said.

Dube said having a skull defect was devastating for a lot of patients economically because they either had to stop working because employers were uncomfortable with their skull defects or they struggled to find employment at all.

She said:

A good example is a mine worker who cannot go underground if part of their brain is ‘exposed’ and only covered by skin. There is always risk of injury to the area not covered by bone.

Dube said patients with skull defects may have headaches and, in some cases, neurological impairment, which may be relieved after a cranioplasty was conducted.

She said a skull defect may affect the patient’s self-esteem, as they were often teased in their communities, especially by teenagers and children.

“They may find it hard to socialise and often become withdrawn because they do not want to draw attention to themselves. Many patients will even choose to wear caps and hats to try and conceal the defect,” Dube said.

The department of neurosurgery at the hospital seeks to address this backlog with the hope of giving more patients their good looks, their dignity and, most importantly, their lives back.