UKZN Academics with a Passion for Paediatric Palliative Care

Photo by: Jonathan Borba

UKZN Honorary lecturers in the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Dr Julia Ambler and Ms Tracey Brand have spearheaded paediatric palliative care through their organization- Umduduzi Hospice Care for Children. Umduduzi which was established in 2013, is a non-profit organization in the province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) offering compassion, dignity, relevant care and relief from discomfort and pain to children diagnosed with a life-threatening or life-limiting condition.

Ambler is a medical doctor by profession. Whilst spending six years in the United Kingdom, she was inspired to focus on paediatric palliative care as a general practitioner and a children’s hospice doctor at Helen and Douglas Houses in Oxford. Ambler serves as the deputy director and head of clinical services at Umduduzi. In her role, she consults in children’s palliative care and trains health professionals and medical students. She has also contributed chapters on paediatric and neonatal palliative care in 5 different textbooks and was instrumental in writing local clinical guidelines, the most recent for care during COVID-19. As a communication skills expert, she is also a workshop facilitator for the Medical Protection Society.

Brand is an alumnus of UKZN having graduated with both her undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications in Social work. She also holds a postgraduate diploma in marriage and counselling. In 2008, she opened the Durban Branch of the Bigshoes Foundation. It was through this work that she cultivated an interest in paediatric palliative care. Since then Brand has been involved in teaching and training doctors, nurses and social workers in paediatric palliative care and has designed course work material for this purpose. She also provides direct services to children and their families.

Umduduzi has been instrumental in reaching out to families in KZN through the management of the child’s pain and symptoms while providing social, emotional and spiritual care and supporting families through bereavement. Umduduzi serves the community with compassion, dignity and relevant care and relief from discomfort and pain. Services are offered through direct patient care, mentorship, empowerment of caregivers, training and advocacy.

This is a testimony of Ben Hawkes, who at the age of ten was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma (bone/tumour Cancer). He fought it bravely undergoing Chemotherapy, Limb Salvage Surgery and Radiation therapy. Unfortunately, a few months after treatment the cancer metastasized and was found in his lungs. After aggressive chemotherapy and radiation, his condition continued to deteriorate and Ben’s oncologist estimated he had only 3 days to live.

According to Ben’s mum, ‘It was on the Saturday night that I got a phone call from one of the Umduduzi board members who had heard via a cousin of mine, at a sporting event, about our son Ben’s story. I googled Umduduzi, found their contact details, emailed them at midnight and at 8 am we received a phone call from Dr Ambler and she was at our house at 1 pm that same day.’

‘Ben died peacefully in his bed at home surrounded by all those who love him. Those last 7 weeks we had with our son was the most terrifying, heart-wrenching, but most special time and having the support of Umduduzi, helped us immensely.’

Professor Refiloe Masekela, Head of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Care said, ‘Umduduzi has provided support and care for children and their families through the hospice and in-patient support as the only dedicated provider of paediatric palliative care in KwaZulu Natal. Through their passion and compassion, they provide our “little” people with comfort and a voice.’

Ambler and Brand live in Morningside, Durban with their two sons, Luke and Jack.

Umduduzi relies solely on donations and sponsorships to run its services. Should you wish to donate or become involved in the organization, please feel to email, or view their website,