Saving moms and newborns

LIVING HOPE: Sister Veliswa Magele and dietician Robyn Rose with a patient they helped to recover from a critical illness after giving birth. The teddy bear is a gift for the new baby. Picture by: Eugene Coetzee
LIVING HOPE: Sister Veliswa Magele and dietician Robyn Rose with a patient they helped to recover from a critical illness after giving birth. The teddy bear is a gift for the new baby. Picture by: Eugene Coetzee

Nursing sister fought to keep critically ill young mother alive

WHEN a 22-year-old student collapsed after giving birth at Dora Nginza Hospital, everyone thought she had died.

But as her family was organising her funeral, the critically ill woman’s hand was being held by Sister Veliswa Magele, who was silently begging her to fight for her life.

For 19 days Magele worked 18hour days to keep the young mother alive.

The high care unit at Dora Nginza Hospital is a place where mothers fight for their lives. The unit’s corridors are constantly filled with paramedics bringing in patients from all over the province – some pregnant, some having just given birth. All are close to death.

On one wall is a map showing where the patients come from. The unit is terribly understaffed, but it is here where Magele is in charge.

It is also here, in the room closest to her office, that Magele spent 18hour days since February 23 nursing young Ayakha Nqilo back to health.

After giving birth to a premature baby boy, Nqilo suffered severe complications. Her throat started swelling, her blood pressure dropped to dangerous levels and she could no longer swallow or talk.

By the time porters wheeled her into the high care unit, her family thought she was dead and started making funeral arrangements.

“After I delivered my baby I was dying. All I remember is seeing the monitors and a light. I grabbed onto sister Magele and I just held on. I was so very scared,” Nqilo said tearfully this week.

“My sister had already organised my funeral. I knew I was dying. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t swallow. My life was ending,” she said from her hospital bed, surrounded by monitors and machines.

What she didn’t know was that whatever it takes, Magele does not give up on those in her care.

“She came in to give birth and then she became so ill . . . She couldn’t swallow. We put a feeding tube in and some nights I stayed until 10pm to make sure she was getting some food into her body,” Magele said.

Meanwhile, dietician Robyn Rose and sister Violet Jezile from the neonatal intensive care unit were putting up a fight for Nqilo’s little boy, born prematurely and weighing just over 1.4kg.

“We applied for breast milk for him from the breast milk bank in Uitenhage and even though they only give for babies smaller than 1.3kg they made an exception for this little one,” Rose said.

Mother and baby still haven’t met – both are considered too fragile to be moved.

“On March 5 my patient spoke for the first time,” Magele said.

“That was when I thought, let me see if she can take a plain yoghurt through the feeding tube. She was okay. Here in high care we work with small victories. On Monday I thought, let me see if I can get her to eat some porridge. I took the bowl and fed her each spoonful myself. She finished the whole bowl.

“In the afternoon she walked for the first time again. We got her out of the bed and into a chair for a while and we could help her walk to the toilet herself. She is now strong enough for physiotherapy.”

Social worker Pamela Rubushe said: “She was studying at a local college when she gave birth and fell ill. Her family came from George and they were so grateful towards Sister Magele for saving her life.”

The young mother said: “Sister Magele brought me back. She made me hold on. I was so sick that I couldn’t even think of fighting for my baby. I was just fighting for myself. There were so many evenings where she would refuse to go home until I was all right. I was so helpless. There are so many things that I want to say, but they all start with thank you. Thank you for saving me.”

On Tuesday, Rose came to the high care unit with her phone, on which was a picture she took of the patient’s little boy.

“This is what your little boy looks like,” she said, holding Nqilo’s hand.

Rubushe, meanwhile, brought a teddy bear so that Nqilo would have something to give her son at their first meeting.

“The day you walk to your little boy to see him, that day I will bring cake and we will have a celebration,” she told Nqilo.

Magele said: “Every now and again the new moms, once they get better, come here and show me their babies. I tell them, ‘The baby is very beautiful but my victory is that you are alive’.”

All Hospitals of Hope stories are available online at

-Estelle Ellis

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