Mom dies after sari catches fire

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Durban - A Phoenix mother who sustained third degree burns to more than 85 percent of her body, after her sari caught alight while she was praying, has succumbed to her injuries.

Thirumani Govender, 56, was yesterday described by her son as a “brave fighter” who put up a month-long struggle to stay alive.

Her son, Dhersen, said at the time doctors had given her less than 48 hours to live because of the extent of the burns.

“She refused to give up on life. She fought back. Even the doctors were amazed at her courage.”

But, late last week, Govender died after apparently suffering multiple organ failure.

Her funeral service was on Thursday.

Govender, a devout Hindu, had a ritual of cleaning her temple every Friday, washing the deities and performing a prayer around midday, Dhersen said.

He said that one morning in late December his mother had lit her prayer lamp and was offering prayer at the shrine, when her sari caught alight.

“Within minutes she was engulfed in flames. A neighbour, who is a paramedic, heard her screams and rushed to her aid,” he said.

At the time she was still talking and spoke to the people who had gathered around her.

Dhersen said his mother was taken to Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Phoenix where she was stabilised before being transferred to the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital for specialised treatment.

“I spoke to the doctor at Albert Luthuli hospital and he told me my mother would not survive more than 48 hours. He said she had suffered third degree burns to more than 85 percent of her body.”

She was burnt from her neck down.

“My father and two sisters were distraught. Everyone prayed for a miracle,” he said. “My mother fought to stay alive. The doctors did everything they could for her.”

Dhersen said his mother spoke to them daily and appeared to be recovering well.

“It was difficult for her to accept. But, she was okay. She was grateful to be alive,” he said.

“But, in the last week, she took a turn for the worse.

“She appeared depressed and unwell. She was not the same person we knew.”

“It has been a very difficult time for my family. My mother was a quiet person who gave her time generously to help others.

“It is a tragedy she was taken away so soon.”

Dhersen said his mother prided herself on her religion and culture.

“She proudly wore her sari. It was a symbol of who she was. She would never offer a prayer or go to a temple without her traditional dress.”

He said the exact details of how her sari caught alight were unclear.

Phoenix police have opened an inquest docket.

About 20 years ago, former Durban trucking tycoon Ranjith Ramnarain’s wife, Meera, suffered a similar fate, at their La Mercy home.

Yesterday, Ramnarain said he was still haunted by the image of his wife burning.

“She, too, was cleaning the prayer shrine. She had a bottle of thinners in her hand and was standing too close to a lamp that was burning.

“When the bottle caught alight, she threw it against the shrine.

“The contents splashed on her sari and within seconds she was in flames.”

Ramnarain, who was alerted to his wife screams, said he, too, was burnt when he tried to put the flames out with his hands.

He pushed her into the swimming pool in a last ditch attempt to put out the flames.

“She had on a thin chiffon sari. Her entire body was engulfed in flames,” he said. “She was in hospital for seven days before she died.”

He said every time he looked at his hands, he thought of his wife’s death.

“I think of it every day. When I eat, when I wash my hands. The faint scars are a daily reminder of what happened.”

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