Dramatic air rescue brings children home

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Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital


Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital

Durban - Two eManzimtoti children suspected of contracting a mystery bacterial infection while on holiday in Mozambique are being treated at a Durban hospital after a dramatic air rescue mission on Thursday.

Tian Fourie, 12, and Lianja van Rhyn, 8, are now in the ICU of Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital after being transported from Maputo’s Icor Hospital by a KwaZulu-Natal Emergency Medical Services (EMS) fixed-wing air ambulance.

Their grandmother Lana Fourie said today that the children were still in ICU and in a stable condition.

“We really do not know what it is... tests are being conducted,” she said.

The siblings had been visiting their father who lives in Maputo.

Speaking to the Daily News on Thursday from Icor Hospital in Maputo, their mother, Cornelia Fourie, said her worry was beyond words. She said her children had been very excited about their trip, which turned sour on Sunday when her son, Tian, got sick.

“My ex-husband phoned and said my son was in hospital,” she said, explaining that his throat had been sore and he had developed a fever. His neck had swelled up, making it so difficult for him to breathe that he had to be operated on, Fourie said. An incision was made in his windpipe where a tube was inserted, allowing him to breathe.

Fourie spent a harrowing seven hours on the road to Maputo, not knowing what condition she would find her son in.

“It was the longest trip of my life. I can’t explain what was going on in my mind.”

She arrived on Monday afternoon to find her son under sedation. “He was very weak and could not speak, with a tube in his throat.”

The sobbing mother said she was so relieved to see him come to and slowly regain his strength. Tian eventually became strong enough to communicate using hand signals and typed texts on a phone.

Until then Lianja had been fine and only worried about her brother, but on Tuesday afternoon she too started presenting symptoms.

“She complained about her throat being sore. We brought her to the hospital, worried that she might also be coming down with the same thing,” Fourie said.

The doctors told her it was a bacterial infection, but they did not know which bacteria it was. The antibiotics prescribed for her did not have the desired effect and she too was admitted on Wednesday night.

“They were given all sorts of vaccines but nothing helped,” Fourie said, adding that it was then that they started making arrangements to have the children sent back to South Africa.

EMS spokesman, Robert McKenzie, said a doctor from the Albert Luthuli Hospital had joined the flight paramedics and the air ambulance had to be equipped with additional medical supplies.

They were also armed with “aircraft cabin insecticide”, which they needed to spray in the cabin when they returned to King Shaka International Airport before opening the doors, McKenzie said, “in case insects from Mozambique managed to get on board the aircraft and were brought into South Africa on the flight”.

A plan of action for the mission was finalised on Wednesday night but owing to flight authorisation being required and night landing restrictions at the Maputo airport, the crew left on Thursday morning.

Permission also had to be obtained from South Africa’s civil aviation authority for the aircraft to leave the country.

“SA Port Health had to give authority for the patients to be brought into the country,” McKenzie said, adding that the immigration and customs departments were also involved.

The air ambulance, based at King Shaka Airport, arrived in Maputo as scheduled, but the flight out was delayed because of Lianja’s condition taking a turn for the worse.

“While my son was being taken to the plane, she was rushed to theatre so they could secure her airway before she was transported back home,” Fourie said.

She said all of this had been very traumatic, adding however that despite there being a slight language barrier and doctors not being able to identify what was causing her children’s illness, staff at the Maputo hospital had been “amazing”.

KZN Department of Health head, Dr Sibongile Zungu, said the rescue operation was prompted by a distress call by the grandmother requesting urgent intervention:

“We then contacted our health counterparts in Mozambique where the children were being treated. It was jointly agreed that it would be in the best interests of the children and the family to bring them back home to be treated here”

“The children were in a critical condition requiring specialist care and are currently in ICU at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital.”

Grandmother Lana Fourie said this morning that the children were stable in ICU.

“We really do not know what it is, tests are being conducted”

Daily News

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