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Fri Oct 24 18:56:20 SAST 2014

Ailing South African doctor's plea from Abu Dhabi

PREGA GOVENDER | 23 December, 2012 11:59
Dr Cyril Karabus at the apartment of a friend in Abu Dhabi.
Image by: ELWIN BUCHEL JNR

As people around the world celebrate Christmas on Tuesday, ailing South African Dr Cyril Karabus, 77, will appear in the dock of the Abu Dhabi Sharia Court on a charge of manslaughter.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Times this week, the renowned paediatric haemotologist and oncologist said his Christmas wish was to be reunited with his wife and family in Cape Town.

"I want to get out of this place; I want to leave the UAE [United Arab Emirates] as soon as possible. Back home I have a family, friends, a house and a garden. I'd like to get there as soon as I can ," said Karabus.

The emeritus professor at the University of Cape Town is on trial in the UAE for the death of a cancer patient. He hopes that crucial evidence in her medical records, which surfaced this week, will prove his innocence.

The doctor, who has a pacemaker, and a stent in one of his coronary arteries, has been in the UAE for the past four months after being charged with manslaughter and the forgery of an official document.

He was arrested at Dubai airport on August 17 while he and his family, who had attended his son Matthew's wedding in Canada, were en route to South Africa. Karabus had no idea that he had been charged, let alone tried and convicted in absentia in the UAE for the death of a patient years ago.

Sarah Adel Abdulla, a three-and-a-half-year-old Yemeni, died on October 19 2002 while Karabus was working as a locum at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical Centre. She had been suffering from acute myeloid leukaemia.

He was convicted and sentenced to an effective three-and-a-half-year jail term in absentia in 2004 for allegedly failing to give Sarah a blood transfusion and falsifying her medical record to make it appear as if he had. His 2004 sentence included the payment of 100 000 dirhams in "blood money" - the equivalent of about R230 000 - to the victim's family.

Although his attorney managed to get the conviction and sentence overturned after his arrest in August, because they were imposed in absentia, the charges were immediately reinstated by prosecutors in Abu Dhabi.

The father of five and grandfather of two, who has maintained his innocence, has been searching for evidence to prove that he gave Sarah the blood transfusions.

He found it in her file on Tuesday after being allowed to inspect the documents at court.

This vital piece of information was missing from a previous file, which was handed to him and his lawyer only on November 18, despite the judge having ordered on October 11 that it be given to them. The missing items included Karabus's notes, as well as those for the three-week period before he started treating the little girl, and laboratory reports, operation notes, intensive care notes and charts.

His Cape Town-based lawyer, Michael Bagraim, told the Sunday Times this week that the blood platelet count, which is in the files, showed that a blood transfusion had been given.

Said Bagraim: "The allegation is that the transfusion was not given and that he had forged the file to show that it was given. The medical evidence now shows that the transfusion had to have been given because of the platelet count."

Said Karabus: "I think there's enough evidence in the file to show I am not guilty of anything. But I am not the one who makes the ruling; the judge does."

He has been living in an apartment in Abu Dhabi with Dr Elwin Buchel, the former head of gastroenterology at the University of Pretoria, who offered him accommodation after he was granted bail.

Before that he was held for 57 days, first at the Khaladiya prison and then at Al Wathba, after his arrest.

As a result, he lost about six kilograms.

The Al Wathba prison is notorious for human rights violations.

He slept on a blanket on the floor and ate mostly rice. Chicken was served twice a week.

"It was reasonable accommodation and we had stuff to read," he said.

His wife was allowed to visit him only once a week.

Said Karabus: "It's boring hanging around; there's nothing really to do. One goes to court every so often. You do a bit of reading of local newspapers and books and just wander around town."

Karabus said Sarah's parents had not attended any of the court proceedings, which were conducted mainly in Arabic.

Asked to comment on her death, he said: "I have had many patients who had passed on. I treat children with cancer. I do have a lot of survivors as well but I am not an amateur, I am a doctor."

His wife, Jenifer Karabus, 63, who was due to fly to Abu Dhabi last Sunday to visit him for the fourth time, changed her mind at the last minute because, she said, she "just couldn't face it".

"But I will have to go if Cyril doesn't get released on the 25th. I can't let him stay there on his own; he's very frail."

Sobbing during the interview, she said: "I want his feet on South African soil, that's what I want. Our lives are in a mess."

She said the financial burden was taking its toll as Karabus is not allowed to work in Abu Dhabi. Jenifer said he had done locum work in Bahrain, England and Holland, among other countries, to supplement his government pension, which she described as "a pittance".

Bagraim, meanwhile, was hopeful the ordeal would be over soon.

He said medical experts around the world had concurred that if the platelet count was what was reflected in the file, then "it would be a physical impossibility to not have had the blood transfusion".

Professor Heather Zar, head of department of paediatrics and child health at Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital in Cape Town, said the document in Karabus's possession showing that the platelet count had gone up was "excellent evidence of a platelet transfusion having taken place".

"In a short space of time, the platelets almost doubled; that's what a transfusion does," she said.

Karabus's daughter, Sarah, a paediatrician based at Cape Town's Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital, said she hoped her father would return home next week with his reputation intact.

"It's been hell for us," she said. "He's old and has heart disease."

His son Michael, a project manager in the telecommunications industry, said he was inviting his father as a consultant paediatrician to assist his sister in the birth of his first child on January 31.

"He must be home for the birth of my son," he said.

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