Durban - A police fitness test claimed another life this week, this time of a Durban trainee policeman.
Theophilus Appelsamy, on the brink of realising his dream of serving his country, collapsed during a fitness assessment at Greyville Racecourse on Tuesday and died a day later in a city hospital.
Planning his funeral on Thursday, the family of Appelsamy, 28, of Chatsworth said they wanted to know why no emergency personnel were present when the assessment was being conducted.
“There was no water to drink and when he fell, there (were) no medical personnel there to help him. If paramedics were available, they could have saved his life,” Appelsamy’s uncle, Gordon Maistry, said.
Appelsamy’s death, apparently caused by dehydration, comes in the wake of last month’s disastrous Road Traffic Inspectorate recruitment test in Pietermaritzburg, where seven people died from dehydration and heatstroke after being made to run 4km in less than 30 minutes in soaring temperatures.
There, too, the participants reportedly had no access to water or emergency medical personnel.
The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport suspended the recruitment campaign and launched an investigation into the deaths.
Struggling to come to terms with his death, Appelsamy’s aunt Valerie Maistry, said that she could not believe that in a hospital bed at Netcare St Augustine’s, surrounded by machines and tubes, was the same person she had seen on Tuesday morning.
On Tuesday afternoon a fellow trainee and friend of Appelsamy’s telephoned the family to say that he had collapsed while running at the Greyville Racecourse and was taken to the hospital.
A hospital staff member then called the family and informed them that the man, affectionately known as Theo, was in pain due to cramps but that he was stable.
“They said they didn’t think it was serious. But then at around 2pm the doctor called and said Theo’s kidneys were not functioning and that he was on dialysis.
“When we got to the hospital, we were surprised at what we saw,” Gordon said.
The uncle said the family spent all of Wednesday at the hospital and were notified of his death minutes after they had left his bedside.
“The doctor said he suffered severe dehydration which resulted in a heatstroke causing multiple organ failure. I don’t understand how this happened. It is unacceptable to lose a young man in this manner. We want answers,” Gordon said.
Theo’s mother, Sylvia Appelsamy, said it was her only child’s dream to become a policeman.
Appelsamy had returned from a 10-month training program at Bishop Lavis College, in Cape Town, in November and was based at the Bayview police station.
Trainees who spoke to the Daily News, would only do so if their names were withheld.
One trainee, said they had to complete the 2.4km track in just over 10 minutes.
He said he met Appelsamy about 400m away from the finish.
“He told me he was drowsy and I helped him walk about 25m before he stopped and asked to sit. I tried to get the trainers’ attention while others on the track tried to help Theo.
“It took many of us to persuade the trainers before they intervened and got Theo on to a bakkie and towards the finish (where) we tried to give him water, but his condition was unchanged. He was then taken to the hospital,” he said.
He said about 20 minutes lapsed between the time Appelsamy collapsed and was taken to the hospital.
Appelsamy had just begun his one-year probation term with SAPS, which incorporated a series of fitness assessments, before he would become a fully-fledged constable in February 2014.
Appelsamy’s fellow trainees, who witnessed him collapse, have vowed to refuse any future fitness evaluations unless emergency medical personnel are present.
Another trainee said: “The students are taking this very hard. People are saying that if the officers on duty had shown more interest, things could have been different.”
He said it was their first training session in Durban since leaving Cape Town and at the college the campus clinic was always available in the event of an emergency.
“We thought that after the RTI incident, they (the police) would wake up,” he said.
Police spokesman Captain Thulani Zwane, confirmed the incident and said an inquest had been opened. Zwane said he was unable to release any further information as the matter was still being investigated.
Appelsamy’s funeral was expected to be held on Friday. - Daily News