Woman paralysed after botched operation in dire straits

Thobeka Jantjies, 42, was left paralysed in 2002 after a botched tooth extraction. With her is eldest daughter Nocawa, 20, who was forced to drop out of high school to care for both her parents Picture: Siyamtanda Capa
Thobeka Jantjies, 42, was left paralysed in 2002 after a botched tooth extraction. With her is eldest daughter Nocawa, 20, who was forced to drop out of high school to care for both her parents
Picture: Siyamtanda Capa

A Jeffreys Bay woman left paralysed after a simple tooth extraction 15 years ago and facing a bleak and uncertain future, is frantic to renegotiate a financial settlement with the Department of Health after rejecting a previous offer.

The plight of Thobeka Jantjies became even more desperate after the death this week of her elderly husband, who was her chief care-giver before his own health deteriorated.

Following the botched tooth extraction in East London in 2002 which left Jantjies, 42, paralysed, negotiations between the family and the department came to an end when the family rejected a settlement offer of R500 000 in 2013 because they felt it was insufficient.

In October 2002, Jantjies woke up with a toothache and visited a dentist at Cecilia Makiwane Hospital, but she collapsed after the procedure and had difficulty moving.

Her husband took her home, only to find her condition had taken a turn for the worse.

A follow-up visit to the same dentist the next week saw the couple leave the hospital with pills and Jantjies’s head in bandages.

As her paralysis worsened, she was eventually admitted to Cecilia Makiwane.

While the department said this week renegotiating would have to go the legal route, Jantjies’s legal adviser said in his last communication with officials that the department had indicated it would defend the matter in court.

Jantjies – who no longer has formal legal representation – says she feels hopeless and alone, with no one to continue her quest of holding the department accountable for her paralysis.

Now Jantjies lies in bed, unable to use her legs although she is able to use her arms.

Her husband Thomas, 74, – who died on Monday – was forced to stop being her care-giver because of his own poor health following a stroke in 2014.

The couple’s eldest daughter Nocawa, 20, was forced to drop out of high school in Grade 10 and care for both her parents – more especially her bedridden mother.

Nocawa has made a string of trips to Bhisho to seek clarity on a financial settlement – but to no avail.

Jantjies stared outside, with tears running down her cheeks, when she was told of her husband’s death.

“He always worried about dying first. He was scared that we would end up the way we are today with no one and no idea what to do next,” Jantjies said.

“It was about 8am when we noticed that he was not himself.

“He started having a seizure and we quickly called an ambulance. Nocawa had to go with him.

“I could see that he was holding on for our sakes and he could not look me in the eye when they put him in the ambulance. That was when I knew that he would not be coming back.”

Thomas was declared dead on arrival at the Humansdorp Hospital.

“It breaks my heart that Nocawa could never properly be a child. Instead she had to take care of us,” Jantjies said.

“Proof of this was on Monday when she had to play the role that I am meant to play. Nocawa had to watch her father die in front of her.

“At this point we will take whatever it is that we could get [from the department]. We have lost our only hope of ever getting what we feel is due to us.

“My husband fought very hard for us to get what we deserve for what we have been through. He fell sick because of this [her paralysis].

“After 15 years of lying in this bed, all we are left with is paperwork and a mere house. The government thinks that is enough – the government is cruel.”

The family moved to Jeffreys Bay in 2009 after the Department of Human Settlements donated an RDP house and relocated the family from their shack in Mdantsane.

Nocawa echoed her mother’s hopelessness, saying they would appreciate any offer.

“I have been going to Bhisho and Port Elizabeth, knocking on doors to no avail. My only hope now is God,” she said.

Health Department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said he could not comment on whether the department would be willing to bring the offer back to the table.

“There was a legal process that was followed. If they wanted to revisit the offer, their lawyers would have to make contact with ours. Whether we will refuse or agree will depend on the merit of what they say.”

A Port Elizabeth lawyer who is assisting the family informally and who did not want to be named, said Mlungisi Mlambo of the Health Department’s legal services, had told him they would defend the matter in court should the family seek to pursue the case.

“This is very worrisome as the family does not have anything at all at this point. In court they would have a weak case, as there are medical documents the department does not want to release.”

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