In Conversation With Trevor: Father’s illness inspired medicine student

Rutendo Kahari in conversation with Trevor Ncube recently

Biomedicine student Rutendo Kahari says she was inspired to pursue a career in the field by her late father’s sickness as she wanted to find solutions to his condition.

Kahari (RK) told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN) on the platform In Conversation with Trevor that she was eight- years-old when her father suffered a stroke.

He died when she was 16.

 Below are excerpts from the interview.

TN: Rutendo Kahari, welcome to In Conversation With Trevor.

RK: Thank you so much Mr Ncube, thank you so much. It is a pleasure to be here.

 TN: So Rutendo you are interested in emerging fields of science?

RK: Yes.

 TN: Such as phage therapy; first time that I came across that word.

And it says this means uses of viruses to treat bacterial infections.

This is big stuff. Break it down for us what does this mean?

RK: All right. I am excited to be teaching you a bit of science because  also science communication is part of my passion.

You can think of phage like tiny little viruses, so they are a part of the microbiology family or branch.

These tiny viruses have the ability to attach themselves, maybe let us say like a key attaches itself to a lock, so it attaches itself to a bad bacterium or one that causes a disease and it infects that bacteria and destroys it.

 Right, so I think to try to bring a bit more context to how that would then translate into maybe like some of the global health issues that we have today.

 As most people know, Africa suffers from a hybridogenic of tuberculosis and annually approximately 500,000 people in Africa die because of TB, and we do have our antibiotics that are working but our bacteria or the bacteria that causes this TB has the ability to like evolve or to adapt to the medication that is already there, so it stops working right?

This is where these tiny little viruses could potentially come in and save us because they have the ability to kill that bacteria that causes TB so why not take those tiny little viruses and tell them hey attack me use...?

 TN: Use it as a weapon?

RK: Yes, use it as a weapon to attack TB and ultimately that would mean we can eliminate TB, but this is actually not a very new concept, it has been there I think since like the 20th century, but a lot of research has not been done particularly medically or like in humans so there are still like a lot of questions on the safety and how it then reacts within the human body.

So, a lot of questions are still being raised and I hope to answer those questions very soon.

TN: Tell me, what are you doing right now? What are you studying? Where are you studying?

RK: Right now I am actually not in school.

I completed my high school in 2021, and then I decided to take a gap year, and one of the main reasons why I decided to take a gap year was to learn a bit more about the healthcare system of Africa, just understanding a bit more about the struggles that are there within our own healthcare system, because like you said I am a biomedicine student so I hope to like address some of these issues that are there within our healthcare system.

Within my gap year I had the opportunity to do a pre-medical internship in Kenya...

 TN: Mombasa?

RK: Yes, in Mombasa Kenya.

One of the largest public hospitals there, and the experience was really eye-opening because I really got to then see what we mean when we say we do not have resources.

What does a shortage of drugs look like?

What does lack of healthcare professionals look like?

How do diseases look like because I personally talk about these diseases but how does a person with TB look like?

How does a person with HIV look like?

How does a person with malaria look like?

So it was an eye-opening experience that I enjoyed and obviously through some of the global health lectures I learned quite a bit also about the healthcare system and what the current doctors are doing and what are the gaps that are already there within the healthcare system and then how can science comes in to like bridge some of these gaps that are there within the healthcare system.

So that is one of the many things that I did during my gap year.

Right now I just flew in from Cape Town where I am doing my last gap experience before college.

 TN: What are you doing in Cape Town? So you flew down here particularly for this conversation?

RK: Yes particularly for this conversation.

 TN: Right. What are you doing in Cape Town?

RK: I am with an organisation called Global Citizen here.

 It is bringing together about 50 young global change makers from different parts of the world to learn how to lead from a place of purpose

So like how do I get into my community and lead from a place of purpose.

 It is also connecting to human rights, it is also connecting to social justice.

So as I try to lead within my community how do I make sure that the everybody has equal access to opportunities, equal access to resources.

Obviously coming in from like a scientist I am thinking of, you know, developing all these amazing treatments and things like that.

How then does that connect to the society that I want to develop these tools for?

I am currently a teaching assistant at a local private school...

 TN: What private school is that?

RK: It is called Purpose-Finder Academy. I am teaching...

 TN: Cape Town?

RK: Yes in Cape Town. I am teaching high school level biology and combined science to Form 1s and to Form 4s.

 That is what I am currently doing.

 TN: You have just turned 20 years old hey?

RK: Yes and I have just turned 20 years old.

So yeah after my Cape Town experience which is ending in June I will be preparing for college. So yeah.


TN: Let us go to the place where you talk about your father's illness; your father suffered for 10 years?

RK: Yes.

 TN: With a chronic illness?

RK: Yes.

 TN: And you say this is what inspired you to get into medicine?

RK: Yes.

 TN: Talk to us about that painful place being a source of inspiration to what you are doing now.

Being aware of discovering your purpose right now. Talk to us about that.

RK: When I was eight-years-old one morning my father just started saying stuff that I did not understand or that we did not understand as a family and we did not realise that he actually had a stroke.

A stroke is like a blood clot in the brain and it affected his hearing and his speech.

So he could not speak properly and he could not hear us so it was a moment of what was happening.

We then went to the doctor and then realised that it was because of his hypertension, this is high blood pressure.

There was a lot of pressure and it ended up causing a clot in his brain.

Why the blood pressure?

Because of his heart, so his heart had somehow enlarged, and it was failing to pump blood very well so yeah, I could say he had a faulty heart.

That was a very strange and unusual environment for us as a family because I got to watch my father transform, because one day he is at work and then the next thing he cannot even hear me when I am talking to him and I am eight-years-old and I am like what is going on?

Then the next thing he is taking 16 tablets a day to try to fight the effects that this heart condition brought about because now his legs were swelling, his stomach was also swelling, and his liver was not functioning really well so everything was a mess.

 He ended up taking a lot of tablets...


TN: For 10 years?

RK: Yeah for 10 years. So I could say just being there in that moment I was like I want my father back because where is he?

 I was just curious to like understand, okay what does this pink tablet do?

What does this orange tablet do? What does this white tablet do?

Because all I knew is these pills were going to bring my father back, you know the dad that I knew so I used to read the little package insets that came with the medication.

To be honest I was vexed by the medical jargon right, but it then just got me thinking how does medicine interact with the human body at like, a molecular level?

Like how does medicine know where to go?

You know how is it actually working?

I think from there I just grew up telling myself that I want to fix my dad, I want my dad back you know.

TN: Talk to us about your dad? Who was he? I mean how much do you remember of him? You were 8-years-old?

RK: Ah. My dad, he was, I could say he was the best. Well he is all I have known when it comes to like a father role.

Then I was still the last born, so I was really like that daddy’s girl, you know like I want this he would just give me, and I could see he was the one who also like pushed me academically because he was the one who used to pick me up from school and then he will be like do your homework and then he had like a stick by the side if I make a mistake or if I am a bit clumsy like hey.

He was a really a supportive father who pushed me, who like taught me how to be somewhat independent and do...

 TN: What was he doing? What was his line of work?

RK: He was a manager at National Foods, so yes, he was a manager.

So, making sure that you know the mealie-meal was delivered at the right places, the cooking oil was delivered at the right places, and yeah so that was his job.

 TN: Do you remember a particular moment when the light switched on, this is what I want to do?

Was there a particular moment where you were like this is what I wanted to do?

RK: I could say the lights really switched on the day of his burial.

TN: Wow.

RK: On the day of my father's burial, because...

TN: How old were you then?

RK: I was 16-years-old. Obviously getting into high school I was not really good in biology because I was like okay I do not really know what I want to do.

I just want to fix my dad but then it was just like you know when someone has been sick for a very long time you get too comfortable, you are like you have seen the worst what could possibly happen?

 TN: You almost get used to them not being well?

RK: Exactly. You get used to them not being well, so I was at a point where I was like I do not know, even exploring...

 TN: Different fields?

RK: Yes, I even explored different fields, things like food science, things like oncology which is the study of cancer, things like haematology that is the study of blood.

So I was already thinking of other things because you know you are used to having someone who is sick so what is the worst that could possibly happen?

So I think yeah when he passed away that is when I was like yeah...

  • “In Conversation With Trevor” is a weekly show broadcast on  The conversations are broadcast to you by Heart and Soul Broadcasting Services. The conversations are sponsored by WestProp Holdings.

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