As you enter the room, you can hear a rugby match is underway. One of the Blue Bulls’ most avid supporters is watching one of his heroes score a try. His eyes and face light up as he moves up and down in his chair, making enthusiastic sounds.
When you meet Deswill, (16) his excitement and support for the game of rugby and his beloved team are evident, yet he will never be able to participate in the sport himself. Deswill is propped up in a wheelchair, his neck supported by the backrest of the chair, his hands curled on his lap – he has Cerebral Palsy.
I meet his mother while on a trip to Cape Town to have his new wheelchair measured for him. Ancia is 34 and fell pregnant with Deswill when she was a mere 16 years old, a high school scholar in Merweville.
She remembers the Friday night of 30 August 2002 all too well. Her labour wasn’t progressing, and she was transferred from the public hospital in Merweville to Prins Albert. The sister indicated that she would not be able to deliver her baby naturally and transferred her once again to Oudtshoorn. In neither of these hospitals did any doctor see or evaluate her. She was merely assisted by the nursing staff, the records in question very sketchy and not up to date.
Once she arrived in Oudtshoorn she was once again left to deliver naturally, which resulted in an episiotomy and suction. During the approximate 48 hours that she was in labour, no one ever monitored the baby’s heart rate or conducted a sonar to see if the baby was in distress.
After this gruelling experience, she was eventually admitted to the theatre on the Sunday morning at 08:45 for an emergency caesarean section for which she had received general anaesthesia. Upon waking woke, Ancia was informed that her newborn son was no longer in the hospital with her but had been transferred to George. He had to be resuscitated at birth and suffered an oxygen shortage.
For 7 days and nights, she was utterly alone: none of her family members or friends could support her when the nurses at the Oudtshoorn hospital told her about the setbacks her son suffered at hospital in George. He too was alone and had to be kept on oxygen to prevent further epileptic seizures. Only after a week did she meet her son for the first time.
Back in Prins Albert, one of the sisters told her that she needed to obtain legal advice since she suspected medical negligence, yet Ancia had to wait and see how her son progressed.
As Ancia took Deswill for his check-ups at the government clinic, she was told that he never reached any of his milestones. She was a single mom, and his biological father was no longer involved in his life after she found out that he abused Deswill while he was in his care. Eventually, with the help of an occupational therapist in Beaufort West, she learned that her child is severely disabled, has Cerebral Palsy and is a spastic quadriplegic. The news almost broke her. Severely traumatised, she was placed on medication and had to see a psychologist to come to terms with the fact that her child would never be able to lead a normal life and that he would always be subjected to others’ ridicule and judgement. In time and after Ancia started to visit a day centre for people who are disabled, she learned to accept the diagnosis, as she realised she was not alone.
It’s been 16 years, but the pain in her eyes is still there as she struggles to tell her tale. She is grateful that her child is with her and not a rebellious teenager, addicted to drugs, like so many other boys in her town. She has been caring for him his entire life, and he never received any formal schooling, since there were no special needs schools in the area. His receptive speech is developed, and he even taught himself to understand English. But he struggles to express himself with only a very limited, singular vocabulary. He is loved amongst the residents of Merweville and well-known for his love of sport, especially cricket and rugby. His blood is blue!
When Deswill was 9 years old, Ancia met a new man with whom she has been in a relationship for the past 7 years. He and their two daughters love Deswill very much. He also introduced her to Simpsons Attorneys who learned about Deswill’s disability and asked whether they could pursue the matter.
She agreed that they could try and piece the puzzle together. Apart from not being assessed by a doctor; not flagging a 16-year old as a high risk for normal delivery; poor instructions between hospitals; and prolonging the labour when a C-section was needed, it also seems the wrong medication was administered to Ancia while in labour. The result was that Deswill had a lack of oxygen and severe epileptic seizures that caused further brain damage.
The case for medical negligence was opened in 2012 and lasted for 7 years. During this time, Simpsons Attorneys supported the family as best they could. They appointed and paid for a carer to assist Deswill, and even paid for a full DSTV-subscription for Deswill to watch his sport. They also contributed to expenses like water and electricity, despite the fact that no settlements had been received from the negligent parties. She says that Simpsons was always guiding her and motivating her to persevere.
‘’But’’, says, Ancia, ‘’it was worth the wait’’, as they have just received their settlement which has been deposited into a trust account, to ensure that Deswill will be well looked after. No money can ever rectify the wrongs of the past: it will however make things easier. Deswill will now be able to receive occupational and physiotherapy as well as an electric wheelchair and adult diapers. There will also be funds to modify their home to accommodate his wheelchair and to ensure that they can take care of him for the remainder of his life.
In the near future, they will travel to Johannesburg for Deswill to receive training to operate his new wheelchair. Once they are back home, he will continue to watch his favourite teams play, hoping that one day the Proteas might come to Merweville so he can finally meet his heroes.
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