WSU medical student survived crash, fought cancer and overcame tragedy in his journey to graduation
Not even a bus accident in which he nearly died, and which temporarily confined him to a wheelchair, could stop Izak Johan Haarhoff, 28, from realising his dream of pursuing medical studies.
There was more hardship to come. He was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and later lost six loved ones, including his girlfriend, in just six weeks — but still nothing deterred him.
It was the only university that looked at the person and not just at the marks. Today, I am an extremely proud medical graduate of WSU.
Early on he had faced a major setback — almost every medical school in SA rejected his application.
“My biggest problem was my matric marks from Hoërskool Diamantveld in Kimberley in 2012,” he said.
“I wasn’t clever enough for medicine, according to all the universities except Walter Sisulu University, which invited me for an interview.
“It was the only university that looked at the person and not just at the marks. Today, I am an extremely proud medical graduate of WSU.”
Izak Johan Haarhoff left his small home town to study medicine at Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha, where, as a white Afrikaans male, he overcame cultural and language barriers to embrace his new home. During the course of his studies, he was diagnosed with cancer, was temporarily paralysed in a bus accident, and faced the loss of six loved ones.
Haarhoff, from Warrenton near Kimberley in the Northern Cape, found his start in Mthatha nerve-racking. Being Afrikaans, he said studying in English was a struggle for two years.
Haarhoff, whose father is a GP, has been exposed to medicine from a young age.
“In the December holidays after Grade 11, I landed myself a position as a shadow in the orthopaedics department at the Kimberley Hospital Complex. I spent 150 hours over three weeks gaining valuable insight into the life of a doctor,” he said.
Haarhoff believes his struggles during his studies only made him stronger.
“In my third year in 2015, my senior, best friend and mentor was found unresponsive. We were called by his wife to come and assist with CPR. Unfortunately he passed away.
“This had a huge influence on my psyche, but with the support of the third-year co-ordinators I coped.
“In my fourth year I lost six people close to me in six weeks. Two of these people died in front of me. I went into a deep depression and eventually had to repeat the year.
“But the university never pushed me away, always trying to make me the best doctor out there.”
He started his fifth year in 2018 on a high and was placed in East London for the first six months. At the beginning of the Easter weekend, he took a bus home to Kimberley.
“The night of March 28 2018 changed my life,” he said. On the N6 between Komani and Jamestown, the Translux bus rolled, killing five passengers. Haarhoff was critically injured.
“I fractured my thoracic vertebrae and injured my spinal cord. I was paralysed when I regained consciousness. I was airlifted to Bloemfontein and underwent huge surgery.''
He was temporarily wheelchair-bound.
“During the six weeks of hospital and rehabilitation, the university kept in contact and kept me motivated to go back. When I was eventually fine, the university was so supportive that I went back in my wheelchair. I learned to walk again.”
A year later, in April 2019, Haarhoff was diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumour, a rare form of cancer. He had several operations and was in and out of hospital for months, which meant he was unable to finish his final year.
The support and care I received from WSU was huge. WSU and Mthatha made me humble, and made me the person and doctor I am today.
But he kept going and is now due to graduate on November 15.
“The support and care I received from WSU was huge. WSU and Mthatha made me humble, and made me the person and doctor I am today.”
Haarhoff said giving up was never an option.
“I believe my story can help others to believe in never giving up and to accept help when it is offered.”
Haarhoff has been a medical intern at Klerksdorp Tshepong Hospital Complex for the past four months — his childhood dream has become a reality.
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