YOU (South Africa)
Daycare choking tragedy
The parents of a baby girl left brain-damaged after a choking tragedy refuse to give up on her
WITH HER long eyelashes, button nose and sweet rosebud mouth in a perfectly formed face, baby Mienke looks angelic as she dozes in her baby chair, cute in her “Superbaby” outfit.
But there’s a heartrending tale behind the cherubic face – and it’s gripped people from all over the country in recent weeks.
Seven-month-old Mienke choked on a bottle of milk while being fed at a daycare in Mbombela, Mpumalanga, last month, and suffered catastrophic brain damage. Now doctors have told her parents their precious third daughter is unlikely to be able to talk or walk. She’s also blind and will probably never regain her sight.
But Ryno (30) and Verna Mulder (26) refuse to accept the prognosis – instead, they’re hoping for a miracle. They have faith their little girl will be one of the 5% of children in cases of severe oxygen deprivation who pull through and recover completely.
The couple hold hands tightly in the coffee shop at the Netcare Waterfall City Hospital in Midrand, Johannesburg, where their daughter is being cared for.
Verna displays no outward sign of the strain the family has been under. Her nails are manicured, her long brown hair is glossy and groomed and her make-up is in place. Neither she nor Ryno have had a good night’s sleep in weeks yet she refuses to fall apart, she says.
“You can’t focus on the negative stuff,” she says. “If you do, you’ll crack.”
IN MAY this year Ryno and Verna moved from Johannesburg to Mbombela, where they work at glass fitters PG Glass – Ryno is a regional manager and Verna a salesperson. They placed little Mienke and her two sisters, Leané (3) and Zamoné (19 months), in a local daycare centre.
The couple don’t want to reveal the name of the centre or its owner because they refuse to blame anyone for what happened – what’s done is done, they say.
The phone call that would change their lives forever came just before two o’clock in the afternoon.
“The day mother just said something had gone very wrong. We should get there immediately,” Verna tells us.
The day mom would later tell them she was feeding Mienke her bottle when the baby started coughing and retching.
Mienke was doing so well, Verna says. At six months she was already sitting on her own, holding her bottle, laughing and babbling away.
“I’ve said to Ryno that’s what gets me – Mienke was so healthy. Only the previous night we made a video of her and her sisters playing together and laughing.”
After receiving the call the couple raced to the day mother’s house but Mienke had already been taken to Mediclinic Nelspruit. When they got there doctors were desperately trying to save her life.
“They took us to the room where they were busy with Mienke,” Verna says.
“She was lying lifeless on the bed. They told us they’d tried their best but there was nothing more they could do for her. I screamed at them, ‘Your best isn’t good enough!’
“I thought Mienke was dead, I thought she wouldn’t come around again, but we just sat in that room and prayed and prayed to God to bring her back. We couldn’t let go of her so soon.”
Ryno squeezes his wife’s hand. “You have 10 million things going through your head,” he says. “You have all these people around you – talking and screaming at the same time.”
Fifteen minutes later doctors found a pulse.
Mienke was transferred to Netcare Waterfall City Hospital by air ambulance that same day, still in a critical condition.
She was kept sedated and linked to a ventilator as doctors suspected one of her lungs had been ruptured during efforts to revive her.
It was then that a woman who knows the family shared Mienke’s story on Facebook and started the “Please pray for Mienke” page.
More and more people joined every day, flooding the Mulders with messages of love and support. At the time of going to print, the page had 25 000 followers.
Since the Facebook page was started, the thousands of well-wishers have followed every step of Mienke’s journey and the countrywide network rejoiced with Mienke’s family when the baby girl regained consciousness.
Mienke is doing better now, her mom says. She isn’t heavily sedated anymore and she’s already breathing and swallowing on her own.
“When you see her you wouldn’t say she’s ill,” Verna says. “She’s strong and yanks the feeding tube out of her nose.”
But Mienke is still battling to suck and when she’s eventually allowed to go home she’ll have to be fed through a tube in her stomach.
RYNO and Verna have been married for four years and the tragic event has brought them closer together. They’re finding strength in their faith.
The turmoil the family is going through is tough on their other kids though, says Verna, who spends hours with Mienke every day.
“They keep asking, ‘Has the doctor made Mienke better yet?’ They ask all the time when we’ll be going home again too.”
Ryno returned to work two weeks after the incident and Verna and her older daughters are staying with her parents in Delmas, Mpumalanga. In the mornings she drives the girls through to their old daycare in Benoni before going through to the hospital.
The kids ask after their sister and miss the way things used to be, the couple say.
Strong as they are, Verna and Ryno know they have a long uphill battle ahead of them. Hopefully Mienke will be transferred soon to another Joburg hospital where she’ll undergo rehabilitation for at least 12 weeks.
They refuse to harbour any ill feelings towards the day mother. “We decided to forgive immediately,” Verna says.
“Yes, we’ve forgiven,” Ryno says. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t be angry.”
“The Bible says healing can’t take place if you don’t forgive,” Verna adds. “We’ll do whatever we must and can do for our child to function normally again. I also realise I’m mom to two other little ones at home. They also need a mom, and a strong mom.
“I’m a very soft person and when I cry, I cry for days. At times I’ve been down that dark hole.”
But mostly she’s strong, she says. She and Ryno know that many people are rooting for their little girl and believe she’ll make it.
She knows she will. Mienke is a little fighter.
‘I thought Mienke was dead, I thought she wouldn’t come around again. We prayed and prayed’