Sunday, June 19, 2016


Dear Patients everywhere,
Mariskca du Plessis
          Dr Wynne Lieberthal was the smooth talking charmer who won every imaginable prize as an orthopaedic registrar in training at Wits Medical School in Johannesburg. He then fell from grace equally spectacularly.
          Professor Einhard Erken, who headed the Orthopaedic Department at the time, said this of him, “During his four years of training he turned out to be one of the most brilliant registrars the Department ever trained.”
          At the time Lieberthal had a skeleton in his cupboard that had so many rotten bones that it was a miracle that it hung together at all. It was certainly not for medical student demonstration purposes.
In the late eighties before he began training under the Professor the conman of his Mr Hyde side was causing waves all over the place.
Having started his own general practitioner practice in Johannesburg he embarrassed his two partners by featuring in a headline making story.
Even as a Fellow of the South African Photographic Society he couldn’t keep his deviousness out of his hobby. This earned him the dubious distinction of becoming the first person to be disqualified by the Society after being awarded first prize in a prestigious wild life competition. He resigned and handed back all the medals he had won.
Experts concluded that the mongoose and cobra in mortal combat in his photograph were stuffed.

Soon afterwards his partners kicked him out of the practice without a cent and he escaped any criminal charges because their lawyer’s advice was “One Jewish boy doesn’t put another Jewish boy in jail. Leave it to him he will dig his own grave one day.”
Lieberthal had been diddling them by paying cheques from patients into his private account. He also committed fraud by double leasing office equipment and motor vehicles that he leased and sold.
Shortly after he opened a second GP practice when he left the first one in “a big rush” there was the little matter of the theft of a Mercedes Benz 280 in the winding up of his estate. He had been voluntarily sequestration.
His insurance company had refused to pay his claim and his Trustee took this to court believing that it had been repudiated on “spurious grounds.”
These 38 screws & 17 rods were put in & taken out of a
woman's back in 28 spine operations in three years
He soon found out how wrong he was. Lieberthal had been up to his old tricks again. The claim was fraudulent. The car had not been stolen.
Houdini-like Lieberthal managed to wriggle out of this unscathed even though the magistrate referred the matter to the Attorney General with a view to prosecuting him.
Another of his talents was ripping off insurance companies. In 1991 he, his twin brother Hugh and several others got away with hundreds of thousands from several life insurance companies with an ingenious dread disease scheme. A case was opened with the police but strangely they took it no further.
Just before he went to Medical School he became addicted to pain killers after having had several back operations. He was treated as an in patient on several occasions and was still a recovering drug addict under Erken's supervision when he joined the Medical School.
Professor Erken
On leaving Wits in 1996 he quickly built up a thriving orthopaedic practice at the Rosebank Clinic where he specialised in spinal surgery. It was not until several years later that a blaze of publicity exposed the sham that was his looked-up-to public image as a respected doctor.
He had been coining it by often threatening patients with paralysis unless they had urgent, unnecessary operations. Others were scared into the theatre with stories of cancerous growths that did not exist.
          When all this was going on the Health Profession Council of South Africa (HPCSA) that claimed to be there for the well being of voiceless patients, was losing files stuffed with complaints, while Lieberthal continued to set new records for the numbers lodged against a single doctor.
          One of these files contained records of 32 cases of his negligence that had been submitted by three of his fellow specialists. This was possibly unique as doctors rarely speak ill of each other.
          The doctor friendly HPCSA that had procrastinated for years was finally galvanised into action by a wave of radio and press publicity that highlighted his appalling record. He was dubbed him “The Butcher Rosebank” by the media. The HPCSA then brought seven charges against him at a disciplinary hearing.
But not before his botched operations had maimed at least 70 people, some of whom died shortly after coming under his scalpel.
          It cost his medical negligence insurance company millions in indefensible claims.
          One woman had 38 screws and 17 rods put in her spine and then taken out during 28 operations over a three year period. They had to be removed when a very virulent infection set. She was reduced to crawling around on all fours in her tiny house where she lived alone.
          Possibly his worst mess up involved Mariskca du Plessis. In what should have been a routine operation to remove rods that had been put in her back by another surgeon to straighten her spine Lieberthal paralysed her from the waist down. He inserted screws unnecessarily that severed her spinal cord.
          That cost the Provincial Health Department R6-million to settle the girl’s malpractice claim.
          It was in 2002 when she was 14 that Lieberthal put her permanently into a wheel chair.  
          He fought the HPCSA allegations against him with every trick imaginable, but eventually after a hearing that lasted a year he was found guilty of a mere seven cases of unprofessional conduct one of which involved Mariskca.
          The disciplinary committee hearing the case was told that “not once did he express regret or admit that he had made a mistake.” His attitude of “I did nothing wrong” was said to be “frightening.” 
          He was barred from practising. Undeterred the wily medic got a job almost immediately as a GP with an Irish Army peace keeping force in North Africa. They of course were unaware of his dicey background.
          It was only after his year’s contract ended and the matter was raise in the Irish Parliament that this became public knowledge.
          His subterfuge here did not count against him in the eyes of the HPCSA that seemed to have a particularly soft spot for Lieberthal. After all the country was badly in need of orthopaedic surgeons – at all costs it seemed.
          It was not long before he was allowed back into practice, but only under supervision in a provincial government hospital.
          Without the knowledge of the HPCSA the doctor, who found it almost impossible to do anything on the level, got a job at a small government hospital in an out the way little town in the Eastern Cape. It didn’t have an orthopaedic section so he started one. That’s how much being supervised meant to him.
          The HPCSA ignored that infringement and suddenly he was in the news again in 2010.  He had just resigned as head of the orthopaedic department at the much larger provincial hospital in the coal mining town of Witbank, about an hour and half’s drive from Johannesburg.
          The Mr Hyde side of him was back once more with 13 new complaints having been lodged with the HPCSA.   
Left handed Lieberthal is accused of operating
on a man's back while his left arm was in a cast-
The Star 2005
          Again he was suspended but while these cases were still pending his strange relationship with the HPCSA enabled him to practicing once again. He was not allowed to do any surgery but he was given permission to become a general practitioner.
So he started a GP practice in the small Mpumalanga town of Sabie (Population 10 000) not far from the Kruger National Park.
If only the Medical Council had done its job properly by striking him off the register permanent a lot earlier many lives would not have been ruined.
Then too if the police and other authorities had done what they are supposed to do this habitual crook might have had his criminal activities cut short by getting the punishment he so richly deserved.

One thing even Lieberthal could not cheat and that was death. He died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in Sabie on Sunday 5 June. He was 61.
Oddly enough it appears the people of Sabie never saw his Mr Hyde side.
The social media tributes and condolences from people in the town painted him as their perfect Dr Jekyll far removed from the Lieberthal who had so seriously harmed so many of his patients.
On the town’s Facebook page where it is described as the “Town of the Year” there was this tribute, “Today Sabie mourns the loss of a great man. Not only was he our Doctor but he was our friend. Dr Wynne Lieberthal – we will remember him as the Doctor who became everyone’s friend. A brilliant mind who was passionate about helping and saving. He lived to serve. May God bless and comfort his family.”
Other tributes came from Jenny Moolman who wrote: “Very sad news. Dr Lieberthal, you will be missed by many. You were a very gentle, caring man, and one of the few doctors in today’s day and age who would see and attend to your patients any time of the day, even on Sundays. RIP and condolences to your family.”
And Cathy Rees added to the accolades with, “Wonderful GP and man. Compassionate and caring. Has left a huge hole in Sabie. Love and support to his family.”
If only his compassion had extended to saying he was “Sorry” to Mariskca du Plessis before he died. It would have meant so much to her.
Confining her to a wheelchair was compounded by the fact that he had never told her he was sorry for what he did.
Few of his orthopaedic patients that he operated on will shed a tear and those that he butchered will no doubt be relieved that he will never again be able to do the same thing to anybody else.

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