After a life-threatening infection attacked the valves of Greg Bertish’s heart in 2001, he made a full recovery thanks to two major open-heart surgeries.
Mr Bertish, 46, is now on a mission to give back, and he is driving efforts to raise hundreds of thousands of rands to upgrade the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Rondebosch.
It’s a task that could cost about R700 000, but Mr Bertish is determined to help the hospital start a new chapter in its long history of caring for sick children.
He has started The Little Optimist, an organisation helping sick an marginalised children “survive and thrive”.
“We do all we can to inspire and teach positivity and optimism, to help them believe and recover,” Mr Bertish said.
He knows all too well about life in a hospital, after tropical bacteria attacked his heart. “I spent hundreds of days in hospital fighting to kill this bacteria. I have gone on to ride some of the biggest waves in the world, become SA champ in lifesaving and Stand-up Paddle boarding, all as a multiple heart surgery survivor,” he said.
Now he is an ambassador for the hospital.
“I now try to assist kids in hospital, and I know what they need to be happy and positive and have hope,” he said.
Mr Bertish wants the hospital building to present a friendlier face to the children who visit it, so the first step in his upgrade plan for the hospital will be a make-over for its six-storey 200m-long facade, which he said had become “tatty, dirty, old and almost looks menacing”.
“It has not been painted or upgraded in over 10 years. We can change this. We can make it more beautiful. We can inspire and offer hope.
“The first impression when entering the hospital is everything to a small sick child, as well as for their parents. It must inspire hope and optimism,” Mr Bertish said.
He supported the hospital a few years ago, and most recently embarked on a passionate plea to the public, using social media to rally support for his “Let’s Paint the Hospital Project.”
The response was overwhelming: thousands of people pledged support. Earlier this year, Bertish raised more R250 000 for the hospital’s new paediatric intensive care unit (ICU).
The Children’s Hospital Trust has been helping to co-ordinate the project with Mr Bertish, and has already secured paint and equipment and raised R65 000 of the R120 000 needed to paint the front of the hospital.
The trust’s CEO, Louise Driver, said the project would be the perfect birthday gift for the hospital, which this year is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its opening.
“This early and unexpected gift shows just what a community is capable of when people come together to support a cause.
“The trust is exceptionally grateful to Mr Bertish, our ambassador, for once again giving a fund-raising project such energy and enthusiasm. It is people like him who are an inspiration, showing just how far a little bit of optimism can go,” Ms Driver said.
The provincial government has also endorsed the project.
Health MEC Dr Nomafrench Mbombo encouraged the public to “take ownership” of hospitals and clinics to help them provide quality care.
“We are delighted to have Mr Bertish helping us achieve that vision,” she said.
Mr Bertish said there was no putting a price on the work the hospital did.
“Red Cross Children’s Hospital saves children’s lives daily. They are more than important, they are priceless.”
If you want to help, visit
www.thelittleoptimist.org or www.childrenshospitaltrust.org.za or find letspaintredcrosshospital on Facebook or call 021 686 6860.