• Shaun Bateman

Not all bad news: Stories of hope and recovery emerge from pandemic

COVID-19 patients return home after spending weeks fighting for their lives in hospital


Every day South Africans are confronted with so much distressing news about the COVID-19 pandemic that many of us tend to forget that there are also many stories of recovery and hope.

Nazeem Salie of Port Elizabeth, for example, decided to surprise his parents at their home in the city after he was discharged late last week from Netcare Greenacres Hospital, where he received treatment for COVID-19 for a month.

“My sisters and I decided not to tell my parents I was being discharged, so we could surprise them,” says the 39-year-old. “My father answered the doorbell and looked at me twice before he realised with astonishment who it was, burst into tears, and embraced me.

“My mother came in to see what the fuss was about and she too burst into tears and hugged me. My parents were obviously so relieved that I had made it through this ordeal that they couldn’t contain their relief and excitement at seeing me. It is great to have overcome this dreadful illness and I am most grateful to be alive today.”

Mr. Salie, who is still receiving physiotherapy as part of his recovery, was tested for COVID-19 on Tuesday 29 June, after he had completely lost his appetite. By Thursday he started vomiting. Concerned that he may have contracted the infection, his family called an ambulance to take him to hospital. The night of his admission he started having serious breathing difficulties.

“I had none of the flu-like symptoms, such as a fever and body aches, that are often associated with the virus, but I was growing weak due to my lack of appetite and the vomiting. I was transferred to the ICU the next day and that was the very last thing I remember for the next two weeks,” adds Mr. Salie.

“I am here today in large part thanks to the outstanding treatment provided by physician and cardiologist, Dr. Neil Hendricks, who is such a hands-on specialist, and the exceptional nursing staff at Netcare Greenacres Hospital. They treated me wonderfully and I am most thankful to them all.

“Given the fact that I am relatively young, I really didn’t expect to land up in intensive care but rather thought I would just get mild symptoms and have to self-quarantine. This just goes to show that it is not just the elderly who are vulnerable to developing a serious illness because of the virus,” noted Mr. Salie.

Another COVID-19 patient who was treated by Dr. Hendricks and who was recently discharged home from Netcare Greenacres Hospital is 52-year-old Wright Jafta, a paramedic from Graaff-Reinett, who was admitted on 26 June. Mr. Jafta, who suffers from hypertension and respiratory problems, was transferred to ICU two days later after his condition deteriorated.

The doctors and nursing staff were deeply concerned about Mr. Jafta and at one point feared the worst. After spending two weeks in ICU fighting for his life, however, his condition stabilised and continued to improve. He was finally well enough to be discharged on 27 July to the absolute joy of his three children, the youngest of whom is just eight years old.

“I was tested for COVID-19 in Graaff-Reinet, and my doctor referred me to Dr. Hendricks after I started struggling to breathe and my oxygen levels dropped below 80%. I had severe body aches and my blood pressure skyrocketed. Once taken to the ICU and ventilated, I remember nothing until I was brought around again on 13 July,” says Mr. Jafta.

“People are dying from this infection and I believe that it was only by the grace of God and as a result of the outstanding treatment provided by Dr. Hendricks and the nursing team that I survived. Dr. Hendricks and a number of nursing sisters went way beyond the call of duty in caring for me and I am most grateful to them all,” he relates.

“Dr. Hendricks not only treated me clinically appropriately but, despite being exceptionally busy also looking after other patients, made me feel personally cared for. After I came around he, for instance, quickly arranged for me to speak with my wife on the telephone. She had also contracted the virus and at one point was hospitalised for a couple of days.

“I would also like to thank all of those people around the country who prayed for me while I was in hospital. It is ultimately only through God’s grace that I am still here today. I think that I am an illustration that it is possible to survive a serious case of COVID-19. So, if you do get a serious case of the disease, don’t ever give up hope,” notes Mr. Jafta.

Interviewed about his patients, Dr. Hendricks, who is probably best known in Port Elizabeth for his work as a cardiologist, says that caring for COVID-19 patients was simply in line with his duty as a medical practitioner.

“At Netcare Greenacres Hospital we do see some of the most difficult and complex COVID-19 cases, so it is always most heartening for all of the nursing staff and doctors, including me personally, when patients recover and can go home. We, therefore, make sure to celebrate each and every one of these victories over COVID-19, as they reinforce to us all that we are making a meaningful difference in the lives of people at this most challenging time,” he adds.

“I think that these two cases remind us that this infection does not discriminate on the basis of age or even necessarily on health. Mr. Jafta and Mr. Salie are both relatively young as were a number of other patients in ICU, some as young as 20, who were apparently relatively healthy before contracting the disease.”

“As we are seeing a number of patients whose COVID-19 is already advanced and life-threatening, I would like to remind South Africans to make sure that they seek treatment timeously. If you suspect that you may be infected, contact your medical practitioner immediately for advice and to see if you need to be tested as soon as possible,” he advises.

“In addition, should you have chronic health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or HIV that place you at higher risk of developing a serious case of COVID-19, make sure that you keep these conditions well managed with the assistance of your doctor. This will likely reduce your chances of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19,” he concludes.

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