The two siblings who had to be airlifted out of Mozambique, had been exposed to mumps by a family member before they left Durban, their father has revealed.
Tian van Rhyn, 12 and his sister Lianja Fourie, 8, were airlifted to Durban from the Icor Hospital in Maputo on December 19. Lianja died on December 22 and Tian is recovering well in hospital.
On Thursday, their father, Attie van Rhyn, said it had been the first time that Lianja had visited him in Mozambique. It was to have been a three-week holiday which was planned from last year.
On December 7, he had driven from Maputo to eManzimtoti to fetch his children from their mother, Cornelia Fourie.
They drove back the next day.
“All went as planned. On our way to Maputo, their mother informed me that their step-sister, Katie had mumps,” he said.
Van Rhyn said he was shocked because neither of the children had had mumps before.
“We prayed that we would be lucky enough to escape it. Little did we know that the virus was already doing its work,” he said.
Van Rhyn said they arrived in Maputo just before midnight.
“I had to be in the office at 5am the next morning. I left the kids to sleep and went to work. My office operates from the farm,” he said.
He said at about 11am, he had an itchy throat.
“By midday, my throat was burning. I worked through the day and decided to go to the doctor later that afternoon. By 4pm, I could not move. My whole body was hurting. At 6pm I was admitted to hospital,” he said. He said at the time he was not diagnosed with any specific illness, but was put on antibiotics and painkillers.
He was discharged later that evening but still had a swollen throat.
By the next day, Van Rhyn said he was unable to swallow and went back to the doctor where he was diagnosed with mumps.
He said soon after, Tian presented with the same symptoms.
“At the time I believed it was mumps,”
He said he kept Tian in bed and called the doctor who advised him to give him paracetamol to keep the pain and fever at bay.
But, by the evening Tian’s fever worsened. The next day he woke up with a swollen throat.
Van Rhyn said he called the doctor again and was told the symptoms were normal and it should be over in a few days.
“I kept a close watch on him. Lianja was excited about visiting her daddy in Mozambique and none of this affected her.”
He said he took Tian to hospital on December 14, and gave regular feedback to his (Tian’s) mother.
He said Tian was put on a drip.
“I was really concerned. The next day, a specialist at the Icor Hospital said Tian had a bad infection in his throat. He said it was constricting his breathing and he asked for permission to open it and allow it to drain,” he said.
This was done under anaesthetic. A pipe was also placed down his throat to help him breathe.
“While in theatre, Tian’s airways collapsed. The paediatrician had to perform an emergency tracheotomy. This is where the nightmare started. Tian was not breathing on his own, his lung collapsed, and the infection got worse. Nothing was working,” he said.
Van Rhyn asked Fourie to come to Mozambique to help with the children. He had not slept in three days.
When Fourie arrived the next day Lianja was still fine and showed no signs of illness.
He said Fourie had told him that the children had not been immunised against mumps.
He said on December 17, Lianja woke up with the same symptoms.
He said she too was taken to hospital and given the same treatment as Tian. She was not admitted.
“I was fine within three days. All three of us presented with the same symptoms.”
He said he expected his children to recover just as quickly, but their condition worsened.
Lianja was eventually admitted to hospital and put in the same ward as Tian.
He said when he returned to the hospital the next day, he was informed by Fourie that the children were going to be airlifted to Durban.
“This was on Thursday morning at 8am. They were diagnosed with Staphylococcus Aureus 12. And the cure was an antibiotic called Linozolid. They just needed to start the administration,” he said.
However, van Rhyn claimed that Fourie had demanded that the kids be moved. The airwing doctors had to examine the children before they could be airlifted.
“It had turned out that Lianja was not bad enough to warrant an airlift, but Tian was really bad,” he said.
To get Lianja on the same plane, the doctors needed to do an elective tracheotomy on Lianja, to lower the risk of in-flight complications.
Van Rhyn said that on Sunday he was told by a friend, that his daughter had died earlier that morning.
“I have had to rely on third parties to keep myself updated. Yesterday my sister called and said that my son wanted to speak to me, and handed him her phone. I was broken to hear my son’s voice. That was the best news,” he said.
Van Rhyn said that he was of the opinion that the time wasted in moving the children had had serious implications.
“The Icor Hospital confirmed availability of the Linozolid antibiotic 10 minutes after they were diagnosed, and 10 hours before they left Maputo.”
Fourie denied that the children had been diagnosed then, saying that it was what doctors there had suspected.
“The treatment there was only going to arrive three days later and Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital had it.”
Fourie said Tian was making progress and was able to walk to the bathroom yesterday for the first time in two weeks.
“We have not yet told him that his sister has died and we will tell him once he is out of hospital.
“Lianja was cremated last Tuesday, but the undertaker is keeping her ashes for us until we have her memorial service,” she said. They wanted to have Tian at the memorial service to grant him the opportunity to say goodbye to his sister.
“We are still waiting for one more test result. He has lost a lot of weight, but I am happy that he is making progress.”