Dr Mamaila Lebea

Paediatric cardiologist

31-year-old Dr Mamaila Lebea has put in over a decade of studying and isn’t finished yet. But what drives her is not the potential for a lucrative position as a highly qualified paediatric cardiology specialist — it is the satisfaction she derives from engaging with her young patients, and seeing their health improve as a result of treatment. “This work is so rewarding. You’ll see a child so sick one day, and the next day they are running to give you a hug.”

Lebea was born and raised in Limpopo, where as a child she found herself inspired by a story she read about pioneering heart surgeon Dr Chris Barnard. “I didn’t even know he was a South African at first. I was just fascinated by the story and decided I wanted to be a ‘heart doctor’ when I grew up,” she says.

She received her MBChB at the University of Cape Town at the age of 23, and went on to complete a diploma in child health in 2011. During her internship in Limpopo, she was assigned to paediatrics, and her love of working with children blossomed. She subsequently specialised in paediatrics and child health, qualifying to be a paediatrician at the age of 29. She also completed a master’s in medicine (paediatrics) at the University of the Witwatersrand, and won a bursary from the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital to further her studies in paediatric cardiology, which she is completing at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. “The Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital is still under construction, but it is going to be a beautiful facility, and much needed,” she says. “It will be only the second such facility in the country, focusing entirely on children. I hope to see more of these hospitals being built in future.”

Although her daily workload is significant, with as many as 70 patients seen by her and the team at Chris Hani Baragwanath on the busiest day of the week, Lebea is also studying towards a master’s in science at Wits. She starts every day with prayer, and takes strength from seeing her work have an impact. In her free time, she is an avid reader and is on a personal quest to travel to as many places in Africa as possible. In the long term, she hopes to take her skills back to Limpopo, to benefit the community there. — Tracy Burrows