South Africa (Stellenbosch University) Dietetics graduate’s own life experience will help others

​About 13 years ago, Mikyle Rodrigues was a terrified ten-year-old diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and was in the hospital with pancreatic failure.

The only person who seemed to understand him and made him feel competent and empowered was his pediatrician.

It was this doctor who inspired Rodrigues, at the tender age of ten, to become an empathetic health practitioner as his pediatrician had been. Rodrigues wanted to tell patients he had walked in their shoes, knew what they were going through and that he could help. This dream became a reality on 6 December when Rodrigues graduated with his BSc in Dietetics.

Rodrigues, who spent most of his childhood in Goodwood and now lives in Kraaifontein, will begin his community service as a dietician at the Church of Scotland Hospital in Tugela Ferry, KwaZulu-Natal, next year. He said he’s delighted to be on the path to his dream career.

“I’ll be the only dietician at the hospital. After four years of studying, we all know the theory, but now we must put it into practice,” he said.

Elaborating on his career trajectory and why he wants to be there for other people with diabetes, he said, “I’ll never forget sitting in the hospital room and being told I was diabetic. It was the start of three and a half weeks in the hospital. I didn’t know what diabetes was or how to process this. One doctor told me I must inject myself whenever I eat, but I wouldn’t say I liked needles. He told me I must never drink Coke or eat cakes and pies … then my dad walked into my ward and said, ‘Hey Mickey, here’s a pie for you. I just burst into tears.

“It all hit home, and I knew, even at that age, that I faced a significant lifestyle change. I went through many phases, but I adjusted, largely thanks to my pediatrician, Dr. Andrew Bristow. He gave me some books about diabetes and taught me how to count carbs and inject myself. I had nothing else to do in the hospital, so I read the books.

“Dr. Bristow visited me regularly in hospital and told me, ‘You’re such a bright boy. You can learn this whole book by tomorrow.

“He made me feel more intelligent than I was. I took it as a challenge to learn, for instance, how many potatoes makeup one serving of carbs. Then he would say, ‘Tomorrow I’ll ask you more.

“It was that playful, challenging interaction with him that motivated me to learn more and go further. My encounter with that doctor was a landmark event in my life.

“I decided, at that young age, that I’d strive to be like him. I said to my mom, ‘I want to be that person who can share with patients that I am a type 1 diabetic, and I know what they are going through’.”

Rodrigues, who works at De Grendel wine estate as a wine-tasting host in his spare time, loves reading research articles and doing gym and boxing when he has leisure time.

Asked about his future, he said he already has a job waiting for him when he finishes his community service in a diabetes clinic in Claremont, which he used to attend.

“She approached me and asked me to work in the clinic because of the way I relate to patients.

“I am looking forward to being able to help patients, including those with diabetes, and, significantly, to help young diabetic patients, as it can be so confusing being diagnosed when you are young.

“It is so important for young diabetics to have someone they relate to, who can tell them that there is light at the end of the tunnel, based on real experience.”