JOHANNESBURG, Former President Nelson Mandela has been described by his former physician as a medical marvel.

In a new book entitled "Mandela's Last Years", Dr Vejay Ramlakan shares intimate details of how South Africa's first democratically-elected president amazed doctors with his mental and physical tenacity, even till the last day.

Ramlakan, who led Mandela's medical team from 2005, says the book is written to set the record straight about Mandela's last years from the account of people who were responsible for taking care of his medical needs.

Although there are many rumours about Mandela's last years, the reality is that what was happening in the last years was a story even more interesting than the wildest speculations and rumour-mongering, says Ramlakan.

Ramlakan first started communicating with Mandela in 1986 when he and others were on trial and Mandela, who himself was in prison, was summoned to come give evidence on their behalf. The two only met in person in 1991 after both had been released from prison.

Ramlakan was part of the team tasked with examining delegates who were attending the first internal conference of the African National Congress (ANC) after the ban on its was lifted. As they had been living in exile, many of the delegates at the conference had not received proper medical care for years, some even decades.

Nelson Mandela and OR Tambo were among the delegates at the conference along with the likes of Oliver Tambo. Although Ramlakan had communicated with Mandela before, when he finally met him in person, he says he was still impressed by the man in real life.

The first thing that strikes you when you first meet him is you expect somebody who is reserved; somebody who, given the history to not be jovial, but what you are confronted with is someone who is very friendly, very polite, interested in everyone around, smiling all the time, highly intelligent and full of jokes, says Ramlakan.

Ramlakan then became part of the team providing medical care to Mandela. In 2005 he started leading the team responsible for the standard of care provided to Mandela. He describes the depths of Mandela's strength and courage.

We had never seen a human being survive six months of intensive care. We had never seen somebody who had stopped breathing but the next day was watching TV. We had never seen somebody who was unfailingly polite, courageous and humble, right to the very end of his life, says Ramlakan.

He says Mandela's physical strength, his ability to resist disease, his ability to undergo medical procedures, becomes what they called a medical marvel.

Earlier, one of the doctors noted how Madiba's blood pressure would never vary no matter what the stress was, and he was totally in control of his emotions and had a very strong will.

What we were seeing is the greatest human being in our history that we were privileged to see, Ramlakan recounts.

In his book, Madiba's physician also describes the final night, Thursday, Dec 5, 2013, when they stood next to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela as Mandela took his last breath.

He says: The medical staff on duty were all sombre and their faces drawn and blank. There was nothing to do but follow the protocol that kept Madiba alive over the last six months. Despite all the medical expertise available, nothing more could be done. [Zola] Dabula, [Steve] Komati and I stayed the whole day and attended to the family and official matters. When the ventilator alarms went off, Komati adjusted the machines so there were no loud noises.

"Madiba started the long deep sighing consistent with the last stages of respiratory failure. In barely a whisper, I heard Winnie Madikizela-Mandela saying 'Doctor, he's gasping'.

"Neither Komati nor I could look at her directly, and she lowered her gaze. As the monitors indicated cardiac asystole, I glanced at my watch, it was 21:48.

"The room was filled with a peacefulness that gave it a dream-like quality Soundlessly the medical team performed some of the last rituals and tasks. Madiba lay with his hand in hers in the soft glow of the bedside lamp ... all of us experienced a sorrow, the depth of which we had not experienced before.

The book is available at major book stores.