My career at Highlands North was marked by a discrepancy in age as I matriculated in 1954 at the age of only 16. I found my place in the group intellectually, but not socially or psychologically as my young age was a decided disadvantage.
Even my admission to Medical School was a strange event. I decided to apply for admission just three days prior to the Senate meeting for selection of students. My application was declined by Mrs Phillips the registrar at Wits Medical School. I remember sitting in Mrs Phillips office waiting for the Dean to arrive. The turning point in my life came when Professor JH Gear walked in and enquired what I was doing there and then surprisingly he invited me into his office.
After speaking to me he told me that he would put my application forward to the Senate meeting if I could bring him a reference from my school principal and from a medical professional the following day, and so my medical career was born. My saving grace was that the selection process was based on academic achievement in the matriculation examination and I had successfully achieved this.
My interest in clinical medicine was inspired by my teachers. Professor JH Gear, whom I later worked for as his house physician. In his reference to me at the end of my term of working for him he wrote his prophetic words: “He should be an outstanding success in the field of clinical medicine should he decide to follow that path.” Inspired by Dr Sam Javett, Dr Seymour Heyman and Hessel Utian my love for clinical paediatrics was born.
The rest is a warm memory and as I reminisce over my 52 years, I recall some of the outstanding events in my career as a Paediatrician.
My close association with the late President Nelson Mandela commenced when I became the Paediatrician to his grandchildren and great grandchildren. I recall his inauguration when we were given seats of honour in the VIP enclosure and Jill and I sat next to the Prince of Saudi Arabia and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. She was astounded when I told her that we shared a common birthday.
I had many private discussions with Madiba and my prized possession is the message that he wrote to me in a copy of his book “Long Walk to Freedom” which he presented to me (see the picture above).
Madiba arranged for my children and grandchildren to meet with and be photographed with him in his home in Houghton (see photo below). We were also invited to many of his birthday parties in Soweto and Sandton and he attended the wedding ceremony of my daughter.
Jack and Jill Kussel in 2017
Another memorable achievement was the successful treatment of a newborn infant who had Listeria meningitis and who recovered with no intellectual impairment.
Today he is a successful young adult, His paternal grandfather was at that time the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel. The family presented me with a miniature Torah opened to the portion corresponding to his date of his birth.
What best sums up my clinical career are the warm messages of thanks that I received on announcing my retirement. These messages are being correlated into book form as a presentation to me. I have selected one of the messages that best sums up my Clinical Carrier
UNFORGETTABLE Remember the man who sang “the wheels of the bus” to us to make us smile? Everyone does!
Remember the man who knew what your child needed even before he examined them? Everyone does!
Remember the man who knew science (before it was published) from his experience and heart? Everyone does!
Remember the man who made you feel like you were his ONLY patient – even at 1am on the phone? Everyone does!
Remember sitting patiently in that cheerful waiting room knowing you were going to get the treatment and undivided attention of a man who ‘always seemed to have time for you’? Everyone does!
Remember the grateful calls from tearful fellow mothers who finally found healing from the Wise Sage of a doctor you constantly recommended? Everyone does!
And remembered being called to Dr Kussel’s home for weekend visits, even for minor ailments – to put a parents mind at ease? Everyone does!
Dr Kussel, your career may have come to a rest – but your legacy and the lives you saved (literally!) will live on with EVERYONE … FOREVER. We salute you We thank you. And we will never ever forget you.
(Patient Name withheld)
I hope and pray that the almighty will spare me long enough to complete my book that I am planning to write on the essential clinical signs and symptoms used to diagnose common neonatal and paediatric problems. THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES!!
Biography and pictures contributed by Jill and Jack Kussel, MB BCh FCP(SA) with Paediatrics
Johannesburg, July 2020