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The heart of a child

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The COVID-19 stats rose by an extra few recently, as Solly and Cynthia Levin both succumbed to the merciless disease a mere week apart. I have known Solly most of my life.

Every Sunday for the past 50 odd years, he and my father played tennis together. They would never be good enough for Wimbledon, but the cup they were after was the cup of tea at the break between sets. During his 70-year career as a doctor and paediatric cardiologist, Solly had saved the lives of thousands of children, some of them my friends today.

Also on the tennis court with Solly and my dad was Professor Peter Thomson, who wrote the following about Solly:

Solomon Elias Levine was born in Johannesburg on 2 April 1929. He was an East Rand boytjie, matriculating from Boksburg High School at the age of 15. When Solly graduated as a doctor at the University of the Witwatersrand [Wits] in June 1951, it was after a seven-month wait, because the previous November, he was deemed to be too young to graduate as a doctor. Along the journey, he collected a D.C.H. (London) in 1955, an M.R.C.P. in 1956, and a F.R.C.P. in 1972 (Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh).

In 1960, he completed his time as registrar in paediatrics at Baragwanath Hospital, then as a consultant in the same department. By the time he moved across to the Transvaal Memorial Hospital for Children in 1965, he was a senior paediatrician. From 1970 to 1992, he was a principal paediatrician at the latter and then at Johannesburg Hospital from 1978. He then went into private paediatric cardiology practice, but maintained a specialist cardiology post in the department of paediatrics, finally retiring from provincial paediatric practice in 1998 after 41 years.

In 1974, he was appointed associate professor in the department of paediatrics, then in 1978 ad hominem professor of paediatric cardiology, and he registered with the South African Medical and Dental Council as a sub-specialist in paediatric cardiology.

Solly received four special awards. In 1995, the paediatric cardiology unit of Wits Medical School mounted a photographic portrait of him above the door of the paediatric cardiac laboratory at Johannesburg Hospital, “In honour and recognition of a lifetime dedication to the establishment of paediatric cardiology in Johannesburg.” In 1998, the Johannesburg branch of the South African Heart Association gave him a portrait painted by Dr Gordon Hersman, and a certificate in recognition for service in the advancement of paediatric cardiology. In the same year, the university conferred on him the title of emeritus professor of paediatric cardiology. Finally in 2002, he received an exceptional service medal from the Wits Faculty of Health Sciences.

At his inaugural lecture, titled “The heart of a child”, Levine quoted from paediatric surgeon Willis Potts, “I’m convinced that the heart of a child sunned by love, security, and understanding will be able to withstand the storms of illness and pain.”

Solly and Cynthia are survived by three accomplished children, many grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

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