CAPE TOWN - To make life a little easier for Fish Hoek resident Jennifer Pretorius, 59, who was diagnosed profoundly deaf at birth and later clinically blind, a BackaBuddy campaign has been launched to help her learn braille.
Despite her disabilities Pretorius has always been determined to lead a full life.
At the age of 6, unable to attend mainstream school due to developmental issues, Pretorius was sent to the Dominican Grimley School for the Deaf in Cape Town.
Defying all odds, she learnt to speak without deaf sign language, and caught up with her classmates academically in just two years with the help of speech therapy.
Although she was thriving at school, another curveball came her way, when at the age of 10, her tennis teacher noticed she was having difficulty with her hand-eye co-ordination.
Pretorius was taken to an optometrist, who noticed black spots in her retinas, but wasn’t able to give her a diagnosis.
Despite her worsening eyesight, Pretorius never gave up on her love for sports as she got older. She played tennis, cricket, netball, badminton, hockey and could even ride her bicycle in those days.
At the age of 18, shortly after completing matric, Pretorius was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, an incurable genetic retinal disease which causes tunnel vision and night blindness.
Combined with her lack of hearing, Pretorius is said to suffer from Usher Syndrome.
In her young adult life, Pretorius joined the Navy as an administration civilian and ran for Defence and Fish Hoek Athletic Club.
As her eyesight deteriorated further, one by one she had to let go of her passions, including photography, as she would often fall down, accidents became more frequent, or she would be knocked over by cars while walking.
After nearly 33 years of service in the Navy, Pretorius was medically boarded in 2013.
After being told by doctors that she needed to prepare for a life of total blindness and deafness, new hope came in the form of a life-changing cochlear implant that Pretorius had had inserted in 2019. The device partially restored her hearing.
With the help of the implant, and Pretorius’ faithful companion, her beloved guide dog, Kaine, she gained more independence and was able to better navigate her surroundings and overcome daily challenges.
The pair were inseparable for eightyears until he passed away of liver cancer in August last year.
“He saved me numerous times when walking on the streets, especially when crossing the roads. With the sudden loss of my right-hand man last year, I felt incapacitated, lost, lonely, and vulnerable. He had a massive impact on my life giving me independence and security,” Pretorius said.
For the time being, Pretorius’ life partner, Gerald, has taken over the role of her eyes and ears.
As Pretorius’ eyesight is currently less than 2% and it would take about three years to get a fully trained guide dog to take Kaine’s place, her friend Debbie Holmes launched a crowdfunding campaign on BackaBuddy to help Pretorius learn braille.
“I met Jenny about six years ago in our local dog park. Kaine and my labbie Rambo, were quick friends and would spend hours playing together. While Jenny and I struggled to communicate at first, I soon learnt that she could lip-read, and then we just clicked and she crept into my heart,” Holmes said.
As Pretorius is now no longer able to read print books and newspapers, a device called the Braille Mantis Q40, estimated to cost R56 000 including shipping from overseas, is what Pretorius needs to stay in touch with her loved ones and the world around her.
Since the launch of the campaign almost R100 000 has been raised towards Pretorius’ fundraising target of R180 000.
With funds raised thus far, Holmes has purchased Pretorius a 6dot Braille label maker, Dolphin magnifier, a Braille and screen reader PC program and a few other gadgets, to make her life easier while she waits for her Braille Mantis Q40.
Any additional funds will be used for speech therapy sessions.
“Jenny does not let her daily struggles and challenges define her, she has a beautiful soul and a kind, caring nature. I hope the public will support me in helping Jen,” said Holmes.
Support Pretorius by donating on BackaBuddy: https://www.backabuddy.co.za/jennifer-pretorius