‘We survived’: messages of hope from some who beat Covid-19
Like their symptoms, their circumstances differed, but these South Africans all put up one hell of a fight
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.
Here are some of their stories, according to HeraldLIVE.
‘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.
“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 receiving 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 the health department and our doctor on the phone.”
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.
— Zamandulo Malonde
‘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.”
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.”
— Guy Rogers
‘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 pissed off if this had killed me,” McEwen, 38, joked from her 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
‘You don’t want to learn the hard way’
Former 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 to experience only 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.
Nombewu said there was no quick fix and that the public needed to adhere to the government’s restrictions, no matter how frustrating it gets.
“Take probiotics, take vitamin C and obey the rules. It is actually quite simple,” he said.
Nombewu, who suffered only 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.”
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
‘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, he having been diagnosed in 2019 with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a rare autoimmune disorder which placed 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 easy.
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 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 admitted to hospital 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.”
— Kathryn Kimberley
‘With all my knowledge, I contracted the virus’
“Covid-19 is real because I had it.”
These are the words of Lolite Lawrence, 38, a healthcare 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 healthcare 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 every day 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 [coronavirus] came to visit me,” she joked.
Lawrence said that 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.”
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 could 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
‘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 coronavirus.
But now, less than two months later, things have thankfully returned to normal for Dr Peter Botha.
The newlywed 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 developed a dry cough. He was diagnosed with Covid-19 a few days later.
Being one of the first known cases, Botha admits he was scared.
Though he was more at risk than most people, being in medicine, he said he was still surprised when he was told 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