Pretoria - As a mother, you can never prepare yourself to lose a child.
So says heartbroken mother Kgaogelo Masipa, recalling the pain she went through when her young daughter died after failing to get a heart transplant in time.
“I always had hope that she would make it. When they told me she had six months to live I always prayed she would miraculously be okay or miraculously get a donor,” said Masipa, of Kwaggasrand, west of Pretoria.
Masipa said she hoped, through her story, to raise awareness for organ donation and inspire people to register as organ donors just as she had.
She lost her daughter Reshoketswe Rapetswa, 6, in November 2009 after a three-year battle with dilated cardiomyopathy – a condition where the heart becomes enlarged and cannot pump blood as it should.
However, eight years on, she’s now facing a similar situation with her 3-year-old son who was born with atrial septal defect, or a hole in the heart.
“This is not just about my son. What’s important is that there is a need for organs and that you can save lives. It happens. It happened to me; it can happen to you tomorrow.”
Masipa recalled the long journey she went through with her daughter after she first began being sickly. “At first doctors would say it’s bronchi-pneumonia, tonsils, asthma and she was always in and out of hospitals.”
Her short breath and coughing continued so she was referred to a team of specialists who ran some tests on the child.
“The cardiologist was concerned about the rhythm of her heartbeat. They had not diagnosed her yet. They just gave her medication.”
Two years later the child began getting weaker and more fatigued. “I decided to resign from work to take care of her and that’s when she began deteriorating. That’s when the official diagnosis was given."
“We were told her heart was getting weaker, but when you looked at her she looked normal. The only thing was that she was very fatigued. She was officially placed on a transplant list.”
Masipa said her daughter began acting strangely where she was unable to locate where a voice was coming from when someone spoke to her. Soon afterwards she was unable to go to the toilet on her own anymore and had to use nappies.
“I had to leave my job again because at this point there were doctors’ visits about three or four times a week. She was basically now a 6-year-old infant.”
On November 2, 2009, Reshoketswe and her mom went to pick up some medication from a doctor in Pretoria Central. The doctor, after checking the child, said she wasn’t breathing well. She was rushed to Medforum Hospital where she was taken to the intensive care unit.
The following day Reshoketswe began having seizures and two hours later she was placed on life support.
A mobile life support machine was used to transfer her to Unitas Hospital, where her usual doctor was based. Another two hours passed and she had to be resuscitated.
Reshoketswe remained on life support until November 6 of that year where again she had to be resuscitated.
However, her condition began improving and three days later nurses said she’d be off the ventilator soon. Two days passed before the prediction came true.
When Kgaogelo went to visit her daughter on November 11, she got the shock of her life when she found her wide awake daughter in the hospital bed.
“The nurses told me she had woken up during the night and was making a moaning sound so they took her off life support.”
Mother and daughter had a beautiful morning together where Kgaogelo was able to bath her daughter and the young girl was even able to indicate which pyjamas she wanted to wear. “She chose this bright yellow Ben 10 shirt that she got at the hospital.”
Sometime during the day Kgaogelo left the hospital to get some money for some medication her daughter needed. Upon her return her daughter was no longer in the ward. She had been referred to intensive care.
“When I got there the doors (of the ICU ward) they were wide open. I walked in and I couldn’t see anyone on my right. When I looked to my left I saw a team of doctors around a bed. They looked like they were doing CPR. I couldn’t see who they were working on but I was able to see the sleeve of a bright yellow shirt.”
Her piercing scream alerted the doctors to her presence when she was ushered out of the ward. Not long after that she was told her daughter had died. She was laid to rest on November 17.
Masipa said she dealt with the agonising wait for a donor and the heartbreaking loss of her eldest child through a support group.
“I have to thank Liza Welsh at the Steve Biko Hospital who introduced me to the support group. She has never gone through what we have in the support group yet she has so much empathy for us.”
Masipa, as a Organ Donor Foundation ambassador, has dedicated her time and energy to raising awareness about the life-changing decision of becoming an organ donor.
“I had to lose a child to know how important it is. It’s the biggest price to pay.”