eResearch Report 2017 - 2018 - Page 18

Dealing with the data
Rediscovering a
common history:
Digitising a clinical
UCT’s medical school,
which is also South Africa’s
oldest, has for more than
100 years trained doctors,
treated patients and
advanced medical science.
While the walls of this
pre-eminent school and
its teaching hospital will
never speak, a collection of
recently uncovered images
offers fascinating insights
into not only the history of
medicine in South Africa,
but also our society across
decades. Working with UCT
Libraries’ Digital Library
Services (DLS), researchers
at the Pathology Learning
Centre (PLC) are ditgitising
this collection to make it
public so it can serve as
research material for a
variety of disciplines.
This X-ray is of a pair of conjoined twins, who were later successfully separated
in the first operation of its kind in South Africa (Red Cross Chidren’s Hospital,
1966). The twins were joined at their abdomens. Before the surgery could be
done, many investigations were needed to establish whether internal organs
were shared and whether separation would be possible.
The collection was discovered by
Dr Jane Yeats, director of the PLC,
when she requested records from
the Department of Surgery related
to another project. Along with
the material she requested, she
received boxes of files packed with
cards displaying photographs of
body parts, organs and surgeries;
X-rays; illustrations from period
textbooks; and, mainly, patient
photographs – all annotated.
In among these were X-rays of
conjoined twins, photos taken
four years apart of a woman who
had undergone oesophageal
reconstruction, and a photo of a
young child – his face in shadow
– with a parasitic cyst on his
spine. When the full collection
was recovered from a storeroom,
the cards totalled around 7 000.
They detailed surgical procedures,
documented methodologies
and showed the people and
pathologies moving through
the medical school and hospital
between the 1920s and 1970s.

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