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'Caring' doctor arrested in transit

Glynnis Underhill

For Michael Karabus to see his 77-year-old father being brought into a courtroom in Abu Dhabi last week with shackles on his legs was heartbreaking.

Michael Karabus is battling to get his father, Cyril, released from an Abu Dhabi jail where he is being held for manslaughter. (David Harrison, M&G)

His father, Cyril Karabus, an internationally renowned medical specialist in paediatrics and oncology, spent his whole life trying to save the lives of others, Michael said, and it was agony to witness him standing trial, particularly when he claims to be innocent of any wrongdoing.

His family is extremely concerned about his health because he wears a pacemaker and is dependent on medication to stay alive.

"I grew up going to the Red Cross Children's Hospital every Saturday with my dad and I would play with the cancer patients," Michael (33) said. His father was the head of the oncology and haematology unit at the famous Cape Town hospital.

"My father has devoted his life to serving the sick and to see him being detained like this was quite unbelievable."

The elderly medical specialist, who lives in Cape Town, was arrested on August 18 while in transit in Dubai to South Africa after attending his son Matthew's wedding in Canada. His arrest, the family later found out, had to do with a five-week locum he did nearly a decade ago at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi.

During that time, Karabus treated a three-year-old patient who had acute myeloid leukaemia, a severe cancer of the blood. She later died as a result of her illness.

Tried in absentia
After his locum, Karabus returned home, unaware that criminal charges were about to be brought against him. He was also not told  that he had been tried in absentia in 2003, and found guilty of fraud and manslaughter, after her death.

He was arrested last month and has been denied bail three times, and the previous trial has been set aside. A new trial has been started, but a hearing was postponed until October 3 after the judge ruled that the child's full medical records had to be presented to the court.

His daughter, Sarah Karabus, a paediatrician in Cape Town, was travelling with her parents and family when they were all stopped in Dubai. "They stopped my father when he went through passport control. At first we thought it was a joke, because we didn't believe it. They only gave us five minutes to say goodbye to him."

She has since found out that the child had a form of leukaemia that had a poor prognosis. The hospital where her father worked would not give the family any other information, she said.

"We want to get my father out on bail. We don't understand why he cannot be released as they are keeping his passport. We are not trying to interfere with the justice system. We just want to look after his health."

Cyril has since told his family he did everything he could for the child, including giving her blood platelets to try to improve her condition.

However, he is being accused in court of not having given her platelets.

Diplomatic channels
Michael said his father is being charged with manslaughter, which comes with a possible six-month sentence, and with forging and inserting a document into the girl's medical file, which would carry a sentence of three years. There is also an undetermined amount of "blood money" that his father could be required to pay to the child's family.

Since his retirement, Karabus has done locums in the Middle East, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Medical professionals and organisations around the world have expressed outrage over his arrest and are concerned about the implications the case could have for others doing medical locums.

"We are talking to people in Dubai about the matter, and we have spoken to the Karabus family, who have given their version of events," Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the department of international relations and co-operation said. "We are using diplomatic channels to handle this case."

Cyril is being kept in the hospital wing of a jail in Abu Dhabi. Michael said he and his mother Jenifer had to talk to him through an intercom and a glass partition during their visit last week.

"The personal experience of seeing my father behind bars was not one I enjoyed.

"On the other hand, he appears to be well taken care of and the South African consulate is making sure he has his medication."


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