THE HOMECOMING: CHANÉY’S STORY – BY ELDARI VISSER
This is a story about an extraordinary young lady called Chanéy. During her life, she has earned the nickname, Superwomen, for various reasons.
We have all read and met incredibly brave people, and I want to introduce you to this one. I am writing this as an ode to her, not because she is my daughter, but because she has had her fair share of moments to be brave in the face of grave adversity. She never gives up and has been an inspiration to many.
Chanéy was born with a rare bone disease called sclerosteosis – also referred to as marble bone disease. Due to the condition, her bones harden to the extent of being as hard as marble. She had several operations to clear her hearing channels, and as a result, she has to wear hearing aids. Chanéy had two tough craniotomies to reduce the thickness of her skull and came through with flying colours. We had a close call during her last craniotomy due to blood loss and nearly lost her.
As a young child, she was told she could not dance due to her dense bones, yet she danced on many stages during her school years. If a doctor said she would have to stay in ICU for four days, Chanéy would go home on day three. We have a fighter as a daughter and intelligent as well. She excelled at everything she did at school, top academic achiever and an excellent artist.
In 2019 she experienced the happiest and saddest year of her life. She was completing her PhD in Chemical Engineering, got married to the love of her life. Tragedy struck, and she lost him soon after starting their lives together. This placed her into a trauma space that, we, as parents, have never experienced and could not help with.
In early March 2020, she was hijacked, and in the process of driving to the police station under severe stress, combined with her current state of trauma, she was involved in a severe car accident. The impact of the collision caused severe injury to her body. She sustained lacerations to her head but mostly injured her spine.
Chanéy sustained severe spinal cord injuries at her C6 vertebrae which left her paralysed. The days that followed in the trauma unit and hospital were filled with tests, scans and tears.
Yet we had hope. Her childhood disease – having a sturdy bone structure and spine – was the very reason she did not break her back. The average Joe would have lost complete use of their lower bodies or even worse. Chanéy sustained an incomplete injury, a spinal cord contusion without breaking her neck.
She was moved to a rehabilitation centre in Cape Town with a great team who started with her rehab. We understood the road to recovery would be long and that nobody could say for sure what her level of “normal” would look like again. Would walking be possible again? Chanéy could move her arms and head, she was able to talk but had little use of her hands and no other movement.
As a family, we were at her side every day, but dad and the rest of the family had to return to Johannesburg while I stayed for moral and emotional support.
Rehab facilities have a full team that works with each patient. This includes specialised doctors, nurses, a social worker, a psychologist and of course, the therapists that are committed to each patient.
The doctor at the rehab in Cape Town allowed us to move Chanéy to a facility closer to home, and we could do our research to decide where to go. The choice of rehab facility for an injury such as this was of cardinal importance. It should be a place where physical and emotional healing can take place, and the patient should look at all their options when choosing where to stay. One of the critical factors for us was that we found a place where they have a ‘robot’, ‘cool’ machines and swimming facilities. For our chemical engineer daughter, this was the place to go.
She decided on Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital in Auckland Park (Gauteng) and before we could say “yeah” she was moved via plane and ambulance to Johannesburg. The team handing over in Cape Town was amazing, so it was a teary goodbye.
My faith in the kind hearts of humanity was restored in one day during this trip. Little did we know then that the most fantastic team awaited her on the other side.
From the moment we arrived, we were handled with such care and compassion that we knew she was home. Dr Anrie Carstens was assigned to Chanéy, and I would never forget the face and the smile when the nurse told us that she would be in good hands. We could see Chanéy was in the right place.
We settled in and made her comfortable for an extended stay and tough months ahead. We did not know if we were looking at six months, a year or even longer. Day-by-day care was the new normal.
Previous patients from this rehab facility told us that the therapists here could drill you hard, that they take no-nonsense, but they got results. Of course, it makes one a bit nervous, but once you are in it, grind your teeth and go! No pain, no gain!
The team assigned to care for Chanéy are all next level! I am yet to see another team and doctor that is so dedicated to getting their patients back to health. The gym will never be the same for Chanéy. In Cape Town she used to go once a day – here it jumped to three sessions daily.
From here, the miracles of healing started. She quickly progressed to being able to do most of the usual daily tasks for herself, and her legs started moving. She also met a robot called Lokomat that enables and assists with learning how to walk. Playing with putty and colouring in was suddenly work-related and choosing a set of wheels part of a fun day.
The accident that changed our lives happened 1 March 2020, but by 1 July 2020 Chanéy walked out of the hospital! Although slow and with difficulty, she walked and she could take care of herself without help. Her nickname Superwoman became her mantra, and she lived up to her reputation as an amazingly brave young lady. Through tears and laughter, she just put her head down and got the job done.
We are still in the dark on how long until she is okay, but that is fine. She will always be able to visit the rehabilitation centre’s gym, be able to see her new buddies and therapists and enjoy a new sport like basketball.
What we know for a fact is that the care team is essential for the recovery of a spinal cord injury patient. They will support you not only medically, but also socially, mentally and ultimately become family.
With grateful hearts, we see how she is still healing every day, and we know we couldn’t have achieved this outcome without her team at the spinal cord therapy unit, the support staff at their flanks and many others that jumped in when needed. These are special people that can give hope to an injured patient whose life has changed. This hope is conveyed with passion and dedication.
Our road ahead might still be shaky, but we know from our positive experience with this team that it can only result in more significant milestones.
With thankful hearts, we look back at a journey filled with many. miracles.