OBITUARY: Dr Jakub (“Kuba”) Pietrzak (1940–2024)

Dr Jakub (“Kuba”) Pietrzak, an otorhinolaryngologist and dear friend, sadly passed away on 13 June 2024. Jakub has been ill for some time and has recently experienced setbacks in his health.

Dr Jakub (“Kuba”) Pietrzak. (1940-2024)

Jakub (referred to as “Kuba” by his wife and close friends) was born in Dabrowice, Poland, on 27 March 1940. Noticing the date, one would appreciate that it was during the Second World War. At that point, the German officials have already established the first Nazi ghetto in Piotrków Trybunalaski, Poland. On 9 April 1940, two weeks after Jakub’s birth, the German forces invaded Denmark and Norway. Growing up was not easy!

Jakub graduated from the University of Warsaw as an otorhinolaryngologist in 1964. He worked in various hospitals in Poland and later in Lybia, where he managed some high-profile patients. Jakub and his wife Maika were blessed with two children: Peter, the eldest, and Dominika.

In 1982, Jakub and his family moved to South Africa as part of the old South African Defence Force (SADF) recruitment campaign for their flagship institution, 1 Military Hospital (1Mil) in Voortrekkerhoogte. Jakub and Maika, an anaesthesiologist, worked as civilian doctors at 1 Mil. Jakub retired in 2005 and relocated back to his home country, Poland. He enjoyed travelling.

Working in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology (ENT) at 1 Mil, a training hospital for the ENT Department of The University of Pretoria(UP), Jakub inevitably crossed paths with many doctors training in ENT. During that period, numerous ENT surgeons who qualified at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and the Medical University of South Africa (Medunsa) knew Jakub.

Jakub was an excellent teacher with a pragmatic approach. He had a particular interest in endoscopic sinus surgery. He was one of the first ENT surgeons in South Africa, alongside other greats like the late Dr Mike McDonough and internationally recognised Dr Peter Wormald, for mastering the technique of endoscopic sinus surgery. The ENT department at the University of Pretoria was one of the first academic institutions in South Africa that offered training in endoscopic sinus surgery.

I still remember meeting him as a fourth-year medical student during a rotation in the ENT Department at 1 Mil. Later, when I joined the ENT department in 1995, I was taken aback by his practical, simplistic, conservative, and competent approach. He used to treat ear conditions with all kinds of simple, locally applied ear drops, getting excellent results. Jakub knew when to perform surgery and when to refrain from it.

Deservingly, Jakub became head of the ENT Department until I took over from him in 2005, when he retired. When I worked with him at 1 Mil, he encouraged me to develop my skills in ear surgery, allowing me to attend international congresses and courses and visit local experts regularly.

I remember Jakub loved tennis, and our regular weekly tennis games became a time for me to engage with him on personal matters.  He was also an excellent skier. Jakub grew radish in his garden, sometimes bringing it to work for lunch. After he realised I had stolen one daily, he accepted that he also had to bring me some!

Maika, me and Jakub in Warsaw

I was lucky to visit him and Maika in Warsaw in 2017, and then I just had the feeling that I would never see him again.

Jakub passed away in Warsaw on 13 June 2024.

Jakub will leave a void in my heart forever. His friends, colleagues, students, and patients respected him and will never forget him as one of the nicest, most genuine people one can meet.

To his wife Maika, children Peter and Dominika, their spouses and four grandchildren, I can only reiterate the words of George Eliot: Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them”.

My sincerest condolences.

Louis Hofmeyr
29 June 2024