Photo Credit: Heroes of Groote Schuur

Sipho Nkqayana and Ismaa-eel Adams are unsung heroes; they make sure the ventilators at Groote Schuur are clean and fully operational – They are the heroes we need now, more than ever.


Cape Town, South Africa (23 July 2021) – Heroes of Groote Schuur is a Facebook page dedicated to highlighting the amazing people who work or visit the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.

The page is highlighting all the incredible work being done by the staff who keep everything running smoothly. Heroes featured on the page often have the most interesting jobs, especially now during the pandemic when so much is up in the air.

The latest features give the doctors and nurses at the hospital the chance to share their stories. This time they honour Sipho Nkqayana and Ismaa-eel Adams, who take care of the ventilators used in Groote Schuur’s ICU. They play a critical role at the hospital, and it is this that makes them unsung heroes.

“Our job is to clean the ventilators, set them up, check them and make sure they are ready for the patients to use. Before I started here, I volunteered at the Renal Department. In 2015 I tried my luck in applying to work here, and was lucky enough to get a job here looking after the ventilators.” – Sipho Nkqayana

Ismaa-eel also explains how he got his job and how important it is to get the ventilators cleaned and ready for the next patient.

“Before I started here I was an intern at the Department of Health Head Office. I was looking for something permanent, so I ended up applying for a job here even though I had no experience. Sipho and I started this job just months apart in 2015. Since Covid hit, we’ve found ourselves doing a key job at Groote Schuur. It took a while to adapt because the workload goes up and down. With Covid, if patients get better or pass away, we have to clean and set up and check the ventilators immediately so that other patients can use them. They need to be stripped and cleaned in a certain way. It obviously meant that we had to start working on weekends to ensure that there’s always someone here to sort out the ventilators.” – Ismaa-eel Adams

Both Sipho and Ismaa-eel have felt a massive shift since the pandemic started. They have taken on so much more responsibility as their jobs are now essential to Covid patients. They have adapted and learned how to handle the oncoming waves of infection because of how bad the second wave was at the hospital.

It is just the two of them, and they help the entire staff with operational ventilators. But through it all, they also support each other.

“So we split the weekend shifts between ourselves. Because of the Covid spike, we now have three units open, and all these patients need ventilators. It’s serious, so we have to be here on weekends to make sure we are here to clean the ventilators. We learnt this during the second wave. We didn’t know the second wave would hit us hard, and so quite a few technicians requested leave before December because it was quieter. But then the second wave hit us and it was too much. Some of the technical people who were here also tested positive, and I was getting called at 1 am because nurses had run out of ventilators. So now we need to make sure we are here on weekends. It’s hectic during Covid, I won’t lie.” – Sipho explains.

“We are the only two people who just focus on the cleaning and setting up of the ventilators, but there are other clinical technologists who do more of the patient-facing contact.” – Ismaa-eel

While the guys spend most of their time in the background, they head out to the wards at times. Sipho shared that he was nervous about venturing into the wards at first, but with all the PPE, protocols, and now vaccines, he says it feels safer.

Before Covid, the process to clean the ventilators was simple. Now the guys take extra steps and precautions, double-checking each unit to ensure there are no leaks and that the units are fully calibrated. It takes them around 15 minutes to clean one unit.

“Until Covid hit, we never knew the importance of our job. Most people just think they are a small part of something, but with Covid we’ve realised what a big impact we have. We have ventilator expertise, and it made us feel good that we play such a critical part in helping patients. It made us feel proud and confident. Before, we were just known as the ventilator cleaners, but with Covid the rest of the staff really relied on us. It just showed everyone that each person plays their role and everyone can be respected.” Ismaa-eel says.

Sipho and Ismaa-eel even helped their fellow nurses learn more about the ventilators.

“Sister Spogter brought the nurses to us so that we could show them some practical things on the ventilator. It’s nice to be hands on, being able to help. We do as much as we can to help if the nurses are having issues with the ventilators. If you see a ventilator in ICU, you must know that Sipho and Ismaa-eel have taken good care of it.” – Sipho ends.

Sources: Heroes of Groote Schuur
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Tyler Leigh Vivier is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Her passion is to spread good news across South Africa with a big focus on environmental issues, animal welfare and social upliftment. Outside of Good Things Guy, she is an avid reader and lover of tea.

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