When Great Trees Fall - Netcare CEO's Emotional Tribute to Our Fallen Heroes!
Photo Cred: Timothy Bernard/African News Agency/ANA

Our hearts are broken, we mourn the loss of these fallen heroes, these frontline workers who have given so selflessly, so courageously of themselves.


Milpark, South Africa (23 January 2021) – Netcare Group’s CEO, Dr Richard Friedland referenced Maya Angelou’s emotional poem “When Great Trees Fall” while paying tribute to our fallen heroes.

The Netcare teams are profoundly saddened by the passing of five valued colleagues who tragically died in the line of duty in the accident, and deeply appreciate the many messages of condolence and support received from around South Africa for the families of those who passed and for their colleagues, who all deeply feel their loss.

“The Netcare Group’s CEO, the people of Netcare, Netcare Milpark Hospital and Netcare 911, wish to convey their sincere thanks and appreciation to the media, the greater healthcare community, and patients from far and wide for their messages of love and support, following the tragic helicopter accident near Bergville in KwaZulu-Natal on the 21st of January 2021.”

Friedland wrote an emotional message as a tribute to our fallen heroes.

Dear Netcare Family Members,

Martin Luther King Jr. said….. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

South Africa, the entire world and our own Netcare family have been profoundly and deeply impacted by the ongoing loss of loved ones, friends and colleagues on the frontline on a daily basis for the past year.
This unspeakable pain and suffering is relentless.

Never before have we at Netcare had to face this constant barrage of pain, loss and suffering.

Less than 24 hours ago, our ECMO team from Netcare Milpark Hospital consisting of specialist theatre nurse Mpho Xaba, a cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Curnick Siyabonga Mahlangu, an anaesthetist Dr Kgopotso Rudolph Mononyane, Netcare 911 Paramedic Sinjin Joshua Farrance, and NAC Pilot Mark Stoxreiter took off from Midrand in Netcare 1 to Hilton in KwaZulu-Natal.

These brave, selfless, frontline heroes were on a mercy mission…to save the life of a desperately ill patient dying of COVID-19 pneumonia. But as we all know, a catastrophic tragedy occurred and they died tragically in the most devastating of accidents. This was their calling and they have answered the highest call.

There is no greater act of humanity than to lose one’s life in attempting to rescue another. We know God uses good people to do great things….and we need not look any further than these young, talented, extraordinary individuals who embody what it means to be a hero. Every day for them was an act of courage and they were the personification of strength, compassion and grace.

Our hearts are broken, we mourn the loss of these fallen heroes, these frontline workers who have given so selflessly, so courageously of themselves. Our hearts too are shattered for their families, children, loved ones, friends and colleagues they have left behind.

Our hearts are with our beloved colleagues at Netcare 911, each and every one of them a frontline hero that puts his and her life at risk every second of the day to save lives.

Likewise, we hold in our hearts our colleagues at Netcare Milpark Hospital and nursing and support teams across our hospitals and divisions throughout the country who have sacrificed so much, too much…to be there 24/7 for our communities and citizens ravaged by this plague.

Our hearts mourn for our medical colleagues and their selfless acts of kindness and compassion. And for our skilled and courageous pilot, he too is our hero and one of us.

How do we do them justice?

How do we pay tribute to all these fallen heroes, these brave souls who have sacrificed their lives?

How do we give comfort to their loved ones and how do we lift our heads up and make meaning from all this pain and suffering?

How can we not carry on and do what needs to be done in honour of them and for those who need us.

Our greatest challenge right now is to consider and reflect on “what is being asked of us right now in this moment, how we continue the legacy of each of these individuals”. We must continue to tap into our humanity and compassion knowing that We The Netcare Family do not stand alone in our grief and sorrow. We are inextricably connected…together we have a shared purpose. Each one of us is a healthcare worker, whether we are cleaners, porters, security, technical, administrative, catering, paramedics or nursing – we are part of a chain of providing care and compassion to the most vulnerable at their time of need.

This is our calling. Right across the country, in every ward, theatre, corridor, response car, ED department we have answered the call and however broken and shattered we are, we need to continue to do so.

Elisabeth Lesser says “When a friend, a loved one, colleague or family member dies, when the world loses one of its beloved citizens – we should not hold back our tears. Our tears, and the calm hands of grief that follow, are the proof of our love, a demonstration of how deeply we have allowed another to touch us”.

I want to end by quoting a few verses from a poem by my favourite poet, the giant Mya Angelou for the poem “When great trees fall”.

When Great Trees Fall

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
 fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
dark, cold

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

Let us hold in our hearts and prayers the souls of these dearly departed colleagues. May they be carried on the wings of angels to their rightful place in heaven.

May their dear souls rest in peace.

Hambani Kahle Maqhawe

Richard Friedland

Sources: Richard Friedland | When Great Trees Fall 
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