Candice with baby Laena-Mae. Pictures: Supplied

Candice Turner's world was turned upside-down the day she was told she had contracted the listeria virus. Here, she shares her story of grief, hope and finally joy, after the birth of her daughter Laena-Mae Turner, now five years old.

“You have contracted the listeria virus and your baby won’t make it to full term.” 

These words pierced my heart, and an agonising pain rushed over me that left me light-headed; dazed. The doctor continued, “You need to go onto immediate treatment. The medication will cause complications and we recommend the best course of action is to terminate the pregnancy.”
This news hit me like a freight train. My hands were trembling, eyes welled up with tears. Sitting there, in a hospital in Cologne, listening to the doctors and my then fiancé discuss my fate in German, a sense of urgency came over me. “No!” I cried out. “I will not terminate, I will find another way.”

Two weeks later, I boarded a flight on Christmas Eve and left Germany, as well as my fiancé, and I made the journey back home to South Africa.

I will never forget the doctors who assisted me upon my return. My father made contact with a phenomenal paediatrician, who had actually written a paper in Poland on Listeriosis and she was hopeful we could treat my baby if we acted quickly. She and my gynaecologist, monitored me throughout the remainder of my pregnancy and when my daughter was born, blood tests at birth confirmed she has the Listeria virus in her blood stream and she was immediately admitted to NICU and began treatment. 

Laena-Mae Turner at age 3 months.

I lost a considerable amount of weight during and after my pregnancy and I was extremely emotional as my fiancé had called off the wedding and ended our relationship for a number of reasons, mostly because I chose to fly home to South Africa to save my baby. 

The birth was equally as traumatic as I went into labour early and had wanted a calm water birth, which turned into a horrendous 25 hours of hard labour (with no pain meds) that ended in an emergency C-section where I was knocked out for 12 hours and did not even see my baby after she was born. I did not even know if she had survived when I woke up and called out to nurses, only to be told, “The doctor will come explain what is going on Miss Turner, please calm down.” 

One thing I do recall was seeing my mother and her best friend when I was wheeled out of surgery, dazed and confused, and saying to my mom “Is she okay? Does she have ten fingers and toes?” before passing out again and waking up the next day.

READ: Panic over outbreak of listeriosis

After her birth, she had a very tough time because the listeria affected her immune system. She came home and was taken back to the hospital repeatedly from complications with her health and spent a lot of time in and out of hospital.

My daughter, Laena-Mae, is five years old now and the toughest kid I know. She is a ray of sunshine (her name means shining light) and she is currently in Grade R and thriving. 

She has days where her immune system is a little low, but has slowly built up immunity to certain diseases and continues to improve each day. She has a rare auto-immune disease known as Hypogammaglobinaemia which means that when she does contract an infection or virus, her IGG levels in her blood drop and she needs to be hospitalised to keep the infection under control.