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'We survived Covid-19' - messages of hope from some who recovered

Today we share messages of hope from a group of South Africans who recovered from Covid-19.

SA has recorded 22,583 Covid-19 cases. About half of those infected - 11,100 - have recovered. In the Eastern Cape, there have been 1,335 recoveries.

Here are some of their stories. 

Springbok legend Danie Gerber, his daughter Elanie and wife Elsabe have all recovered from the coronavirus
Springbok legend Danie Gerber, his daughter Elanie and wife Elsabe have all recovered from the coronavirus
Image: Supplied

‘Stay calm and take necessary precautions’

Elanie Gerber, 36, the daughter of  Springbok legend Danie Gerber, 62, tested positive just a day after her father found out he had contracted Covid-19. Later, mom Elsabe, 59, also tested positive. 

Danie was one of the first residents in Port Elizabeth to make   his status public when he talked about it in March.

“We happened to get the virus at a time when it was quite new and no-one really knew much about it, so you can imagine how scary it was not knowing if you will be one of the survivors or not,” Elanie said.

Soon after getting their results, Danie and Elanie self-isolated at their Bluewater Bay home, displaying mild symptoms. 

“We were fortunate that we were not experiencing any major difficulties that required us to be admitted into hospital like some people do.

“We took care of ourselves at home and consulted with the health department and our doctor on the phone for guidance.”

Elanie said she had initially suffered from headaches and a slight throat irritation that affected her voice and later lost her senses of smell and taste. 

She said her family feared the worst as Danie already suffers from heart problems and Elanie had lung problems.

“We were advised to just consume a lot of liquids and vitamin C and D, but we never had to take any medication. We were told to take paracetamol for pain,” she said. 

She and Danie were declared Covid-19 negative three weeks later, on April 17. 

With infections in SA continuing to rise, Elanie advised people to remain calm and take the necessary precautions as stipulated by the department of health. 

Elsabe tested negative when her family’s results came back  positive in late March, and as an asthmatic she moved into a friendy’s nearby house in Bluewater Bay alone.

However, she started displaying Covid-19 symptoms about a week later and tested positive for the virus early in April.

Elsabe moved back in with her family after testing positive. 

“This is the kind of thing that needs you to keep yourself calm and pray to God. 

“When my doctor confirmed that I had tested positive, I cleaned up the house and ran myself a  bath to relax before going back home to my family.” 

Elsabe recovered at home with her family and was declared negative on May 7, about four weeks after her diagnosis. 

- Zamandulo Malonde

Former MP Judy Chalmers is back to writing her memoirs and reading books
Former MP Judy Chalmers is back to writing her memoirs and reading books
Image: Supplied

‘If you’ve kept fairly fit, you can survive’

During the first week she was ill she did not feel too bad, but the next fortnight was awful,  87-year-old Judy Chalmers said of her battle with Covid-19.  

“I had no temperature and it never got into my chest, but it did get to my liver and I was terribly nauseous.

“I have not felt as sick as that since I was a child,” the former MP and environmental campaigner said.

“However, I quarantined and treated myself and did not have to be hospitalised.

“After 10 days I started to get better, and now I feel back to normal.”

Chalmers, who lives in a Summerstrand retirement village,  said she had always walked every day and was lucky enough not to have any underlying illnesses.

“I think no matter your age, if you’ve kept fairly fit then it will help you to withstand the virus.”

During the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, her grandfather Harry Haigh had moved his whole family down from their Cape Road house to be nearer the sea, she said.

“They rented one of the old railway houses in Happy Valley and every day he got them all to go for a swim because he was convinced that would help them ward off the virus.

“And none of them got sick. I’ve never forgotten that.”

She said support from her daughter, Mary, as well as other family members, friends and neighbours had helped her during her quarantine.

“It really helped that I was in a cottage within a village rather than alone in a flat somewhere.

“Obviously they could not come to see me, but I often spoke to them on the phone and they dropped food at the back door.”

When she was at her sickest she was unable to do anything except lie on her bed, but as she recovered she returned to her usual regime of reading and writing, she said.

“I’m writing my memoirs and studying butterflies, and I usually have at least three books on the go.

“While I was recovering it was Bill Bryson’s The Body, a few thrillers and Irish writer Colum McCann.”

- Guy Rogers

Eastern Cape mom Cheree McEwen, who also has stage 4 cancer, with her sons Josh, 13, and Luke, 9
Eastern Cape mom Cheree McEwen, who also has stage 4 cancer, with her sons Josh, 13, and Luke, 9
Image: Supplied

‘If I can beat it, so can you’

For six years she has fought cancer, surviving one battle after another, so when mother of two Cheree McEwen tested positive for Covid-19 after her latest hospital stay, she knew that it was just another hurdle she would have to overcome — and she managed to do just that.

“I would have been so pi**ed off if this had killed me,” McEwen, 38, joked from her Komani (formerly Queenstown) home this week, just days after receiving the good news that she had recovered from the killer virus.

She is tough, and she has had to be since the age of 32 when she was first diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma, an extremely aggressive skin cancer.

About four weeks ago, while recovering from surgery to remove more than 20 tumours from her body at Mediclinic Morningside in Johannesburg, McEwen was given some more bad news — she had contracted coronavirus.

While she initially tested negative, after waking up one morning “feeling like a bus had hit her” and with a chronic cough, she insisted on a follow-up test.

This time around, the results were completely different.

“I can’t say I was upset or disappointed. My mind has become immune to results.

“I’ve conditioned myself into not having high hopes.”

She said her breathing was the biggest concern, along with a tight chest, but that she was on extremely strong pain medication because of her operation and that may have masked some of the symptoms.

While in isolation, what she missed most were her two sons; Josh, 13, and Luke, 9.

About two weeks ago, staff at St Dominic’s Hospital in East London gave her the good news that she was asymptomatic.

She then spent an additional week in self-isolation and, after being confirmed as virus-free, the health department removed her from the region’s list of active cases.

Her advice to others?

“Don’t spend your life panicking about this disease. If I can beat it being immune-compromised, so can you.”

- Kathryn Kimberley

Former Port Elizabeth DJ Lunga Nombewu said the biggest battle of his coronavirus journey was the emotional aspect of it
Former Port Elizabeth DJ Lunga Nombewu said the biggest battle of his coronavirus journey was the emotional aspect of it
Image: Supplied

‘You don’t want to learn the hard way’

Former Port Elizabeth DJ Lunga Nombewu has described his battle with Covid-19 as a very lonely road.

“Why risk it? You don’t want to have to learn the hard way,” he advised from his Johannesburg home, where he lives with his wife and two young children.

The 41-year-old said while he had been one of the lucky few and only experienced very mild symptoms, fear had gripped him when he considered the people he may have infected before finding out that he had contracted the virus while travelling abroad for work.

Nombewu was finally cleared of the infection last month, but it was not an easy road emotionally.

Before his diagnosis, he said he had joked about Covid-19 on social media, something he now wishes he had not done.

Friends abroad — with their various countries having been hit by the pandemic before SA —  warned him just how serious — and deadly — the virus actually was.

“And then it quite literally hit me.

“We as people are making up our own conspiracy theories, but the very real truth is people are dying.”

Nombewu said there was no quick fix and that the public needed to adhere to government’s restrictions, no matter how frustrating it could get.

“Take probiotics, take vitamin C and obey the rules. It is actually quite simple,” he said.

Nombewu, who had only suffered mild symptoms such as a slight cough and a runny nose, said he had battled most with the emotional stress of Covid-19.

“For me, that was the hardest battle to fight. But I found my strength in relying on the people who were supporting me.”

A simple task like buying a loaf of bread had to be done by someone else.

“It is vital to stay upbeat. If it is people getting you down, switch off your phone.”

Nombewu said in some communities a terrible stigma had been created around Covid-19.

“That is why I decided to speak out. This can happen to anyone,” he said.

- Kathryn Kimberley

Former Port Elizabeth cricketer Solomzi Nqweni has recovered from coronavirus.
STILL WINNING: Former Port Elizabeth cricketer Solomzi Nqweni has recovered from coronavirus.
Image: Supplied

‘It hit me like a ton of bricks’

A bloody nose, fevers, chills, body aches and night sweats — cricketer Solomzi Nqweni experienced it all.

“Take different types of common colds and combine them. That’s what it felt like.”

Nqweni’s journey to beating Covid-19 was a particularly important one, having been diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a rare autoimmune disorder, last year, placing him in the high-risk category.

But on Friday he received the news he had so desperately yearned for — he had fully recovered from the coronavirus.

For Nqweni, 26, a former Warriors cricket player, the road to recovery was by no means an easy one.

From fevers in the first week to becoming desperately ill the next, Nqweni said the virus hit him like a ton of bricks.

“I was very, very sick. I had cold chills the one minute and hot flushes the next.

“My head throbbed and my nose would bleed constantly.”

Eventually, his entire body was covered in a fine rash.

“My eyes became sore and I developed mouth ulcers.”

He was unable to eat most foods as a result and everything had to be blended.

“Fortunately I didn’t have to be hospitalised. I was so afraid of going back on a ventilator,” he said.

The Grey High School matriculant said battling coronavirus had triggered the emotions he had gone through when he was first hospitalised for GBS.

“It only becomes real when it affects someone you know, and only then do you understand the real effect of it.

“Well, I now know that it is very real.”

Nqweni had gone into self-isolation at home and was told to contact the hospital should he have difficulty breathing.

By last week the symptoms had subsided and he was no longer experiencing night sweats — one of the last symptoms to linger.

“I felt very confident that I had recovered and decided to go for the re-test.”

A few days later, Nqweni was told that Covid-19 was yet another thing he had hit out of the park.

- Kathryn Kimberley

Lolite Lawrence said the first thing she did was pray when she found out she had contracted Covid-19
Lolite Lawrence said the first thing she did was pray when she found out she had contracted Covid-19
Image: Facebook

‘With all my knowledge, I contracted virus’

“Covid-19 is real because I had it.”

These are the words of Lolite Lawrence, 38, a health-care professional in Cape Town.  

“We are now fighting a battle as a family, as friends, as a nation. And we don’t know what the outcome is going to be,” she said.

“As a health-care professional, I know the symptoms, I know the incubation period and the risk of transmission.

“I have been sterilising, washing my hands, wearing my mask.

“In fact, I was so conscious and so serious about the spreading of the virus that my daughter has been staying with my parents since the start of the lockdown because I am exposed to the virus on a daily basis and did not want to put her life in danger.

“But with all my knowledge and precautionary measures, I contracted the virus.”

Lawrence is an epidemiologist, a field that specialises in the study and analysis of diseases in defined populations.

“Yet auntie Rona came to visit me,” she joked.

Lawrence said when she started coughing, she knew she had to be tested.

While waiting for her results, her fever spiked to between 38 and 40 degrees.

“I had a dry cough, I had chills and I was super tired and just wanted to sleep all the time.”

Lawrence said she believes everything happens for a reason.

“I could hear the fear in my family’s voices when I spoke to them and I knew this was the reason why I had to get it first,” she said of her family, many of whom live in Port Elizabeth.

Told she had contracted Covid-19, Lawrence said the first thing she did was pray.

“I was one of the lucky few who did not land up in hospital but there were days that I thought I needed to phone my doctor so that I can be hospitalised.

“But I am fine now and once again I can say ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength’ because I no longer have coronavirus.”

- Kathryn Kimberley

Dr Peter Botha
Dr Peter Botha
Image: Supplied

‘Being one of first cases, I was scared’

His colleagues’ joke that he is “patient zero”, having been the first medical practitioner at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town to contract the coronavirus.

But now, less than two months later, things have thankfully returned  to normal for Dr Peter Botha.

The newly-wed former Port Elizabeth resident, who specialises in orthopaedics, said he was first tested for Covid-19 on March 16, when he and his wife returned home from their honeymoon in Bali.

But the test returned negative.

“Seventeen days later I became sick. I was on call that night, but I felt feverish and had body aches.”

He informed his colleagues that he was unwell and went home.

Botha, 33, said by this stage he had also started with a dry cough.

He was diagnosed with Covid-19 a few days later.

Being one of the first known cases, Botha admits that he was scared.

Though he was more at risk than most people, being in the medical industry, he said he was still surprised when he was informed that he had tested positive.

“There was not a lot of information to go on at the time.

“At that stage, I thought of it as a type of flu but I quickly found out that it is so much more than that.

“You don’t know what is going to happen from day to day.

“My main focus was just to avoid having to be put on a ventilator.”

The doctor had self-isolated from his wife, who tested negative for the virus.

Botha’s condition later deteriorated into pneumonia.

“I am a fairly healthy guy and it was the first time I have had pneumonia,” he said.

He also experienced most of the symptoms.

“I was very fatigued and had a loss of smell and taste. I coughed throughout.”

He recalls day eight as being the hardest.

“You worry about the people you were with before testing.

“You try to remember who you came into contact with.

“I was lucky to have received an immense amount of support, especially from my colleagues," he said.

- Kathryn Kimberley


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