Ever since the days Gerald Maarman and his mother would visit their local hospital, Gerald dreamt of being a doctor. The environment fascinated him, and he read every medical book that he could get his hands on. But achieving his life-long-dream was far from easy and it almost didn’t happen.
The 34-year-old experienced a very happy childhood growing up in Kleinvlei Eesteriver, with his parents and two older siblings. His father, being a pastor, meant that Gerald spent most of his days going to church or attending some religious event. Gerald believes that his upbringing grounded him spiritually and allowed him to find his life’s purpose at a very young age. He says he always knew that he wanted to study medicine, but never really anticipated the adversity that came with it.
During his time at Eesteriver Secondary School, Gerald’s mother was retrenched, his sister fell pregnant, and his brother became a drug addict. His father was the only one working, which brought a lot of strain on the family. Gerald’s world was completely shattered, and a home where laughter once echoed, become a place of awkward silence with occasional feuds about money.
With their financial constraints, Gerald remembers going to school on an empty stomach and no lunchbox. He adds, “My schoolwork suffered and my health too when doctors diagnosed me with Ulcers. I remember walking home from school one day, questioning God and everything that was going wrong in my life. I was so depressed, I felt lonely and neglected.” At this point Gerald was crying and was forced to ask himself two very important questions; “was I going to walk the same path my older brother did? Or was I going to choose differently?”
He chose different – But even after choosing to lead a different life, nothing much had changed for Gerald and his family. They were still struggling financially and Gerald was still struggling in school. By the time he wrote his matric exams in 2002, he knew that he wouldn’t do well. “I needed an exemption to study at Stellenbosch University, but passed grade 12 without one,” he says.
Gerald’s poor matric results crushed him and deepened his state of depression. However, despite everything that went wrong in his life, Gerald was not ready to quit.
In that same year, Gerald heard of the Schimathus-Post-Matric program offered at Stellenbosch University and he applied immediately. The program allowed Gerald to rewrite and improve his grade 12 results in Physical science, Mathematics, Language studies, and Computer studies. And of course, from thereon, nothing could stop him.
Things went so well that Gerald got a bursary, took residency at Stellenbosch, and obtained his bachelor’s degree in Functional Human Biology in 2006 – majoring in Physiology and medical nutrition. Next was his honours degree, which he also did at Stellenbosch and scored 71% for his research in physiology and 73% for his theoretical work.
Despite such great academic results, Gerald still struggled emotionally throughout university. He constantly thought of his family and their financial state, “I had to remind myself of the future that I wanted for both me and family. I realised being a doctor was my dream, and that I would have to fight to get out of my circumstances,” he says.
With his dream now being fuelled with determination, Gerald flourished in University and obtained his masters degree in 2010 while working on multiple medical research projects as well as sports medicine projects. In 2011, Gerald joined the University of Cape Town where he obtained his Ph.D. in Cardiovascular Medicine in 2014.
He has since then gained valuable experience in the industry and was even invited to lecture at the Hatter Institute for Cardiovascular Disease in Africa. He has collaborated with institutions like the Desmond Tutu TB centre where he was involved in academic, research and staff development.
But his greatest moment; In fact, his breakthrough moment was when he was offered to do a research training scholarship in Germany. The opportunity forced Gerald to think outside of his comfort zone and through this he has establish a career in medicine research and is now an NRF rated researcher.
These ratings identify researchers who count among the leaders in their field of expertise and gives recognition to those who constantly produce high quality research outputs. “I was also funded by the South African Rooibos Council to try and figure out how Rooibos tea is able to protect the heart, and we hope to publish our findings in an international peer-reviewed scientific journal soon,” he says.
Currently he is the principle investigator at Tygerberg Medical School where he leads a range of biomedical and clinical studies. With 14 years of experience, Gerald admits that there were times that he was exhausted, but never wanted to give up. He also says that there were times that he lost faith in his capabilities, but overcame this by dividing his academic journey into smaller, more obtainable milestones.
Dr. Gerald Maarman is passionate about the health of others and with World Health Day on Sunday (07 April) fast approaching; he asks that people take their health more seriously, exercise, eat healthy, visit their house doctor, and go for regular cancer checks.
The research doctor is also a keen singer, preacher, and writer. He recently launched his music video with gospel star Neville D and is currently working on his first book. He says the book will delve into how one can achieve success in the face of adversity and promises to reveal some of the things he has never shared before. So we wait – patiently.
Note: A special thanks to Dr. Gerald Maarman for making time to speak with us.