Naka Drot­ské on his life-and-death or­deal

For­mer Spring­bok Naka Drot­ské says his brush with death has changed him

YOU (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - BY CYRIL BLACKBURN PICTURES: PAPI MORAKE

HE’S never been the kind of guy who cries eas­ily but the mem­ory of the night he al­most died – with­out so much as a good­bye to the peo­ple he loves – is enough to re­duce the for­mer Spring­bok stal­wart to tears.

Naka Drot­ské (47) strug­gles to keep his emo­tions in check as he sits next to his wife, Marzanne (42), on the couch in the TV room of their Bloem­fontein home.

“One mo­ment we were talk­ing about what to have for din­ner and the next I’m wak­ing up three days later in ICU,” the for­mer Chee­tahs coach re­calls.

The 1995 World Cup leg­end has been to hell and back since four armed rob­bers stormed into his brother’s home in Novem­ber and shot him twice.

What fol­lowed were two hos­pi­tal stays – and two brushes with death. “My heart stopped twice,” he says. “Within days my fight­ing spirit dwin­dled. Min­utes be­came hours, hours be­come days and with­out even fully re­al­is­ing what I was do­ing, I asked God to take me.”

But 37 days af­ter the home in­va­sion Naka smiles as he re­laxes at home with his wife by his side and his beloved dog, Rocky, doz­ing at his feet.

“I’ve been given an­other chance at life,” he says.

The ban­dages on his right arm and the hum of a por­ta­ble ma­chine that keeps his wounds clean are the only signs of his or­deal.

“It’s hard to be­lieve so many peo­ple had been pray­ing for him to live just a week ago,” Marzanne says.

But he can be­lieve it, Naka says. “Once ac­cep­tance came, my fight­ing spirit re­turned with it.

“That’s when I re­alised I was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a mir­a­cle. Now, sit­ting here in my Naka Drot­ské un­der­went life­sav­ing surgery af­ter be­ing shot in an armed rob­bery, then five days af­ter be­ing dis­charged he was back in ICU with pneu­mo­nia. lounge next to my wife, I know I’ll never take any­thing for granted again.”

NAKA wasn’t sup­posed to be at the small­hold­ing of his brother, Ti­nus, at Kameeldrift on the out­skirts of Pre­to­ria when the rob­bers burst in on 29 Novem­ber. He was meant to ar­rive later.

He’d just dropped his sons, Allen (15) and Tris­tan (11), at the air­port for their flight to Amer­ica to visit their mom, Liske.

Naka had planned to hang around for a lit­tle while longer in case the flight was can­celled but in­stead de­cided to leave for the small­hold­ing where he was due to have din­ner with his brother and old friend and fel­low for­mer Bok Os du Randt.

Shortly af­ter 7pm he let Ti­nus know he was al­most there.

He’d been at the house for “five or 10 min­utes” when four men in bal­a­clavas charged into the gar­den where Os, Ti­nus and Naka were sit­ting.

With­out a mo­ment’s hes­i­ta­tion the burly for­mer rugby star hurled him­self at the in­trud­ers – and they opened fire.

One bul­let struck Naka’s right arm and chest and the sec­ond hit him in the stom­ach. Ti­nus’ son, Wes­sel (13), pressed the panic but­ton and the at­tack­ers fled.

He still doesn’t know why he tack­led the men, Naka says.

“I re­mem­ber think­ing we prob­a­bly wouldn’t sur­vive any­way,” he says, his voice crack­ing. “And that made me an­gry so I stormed them.”

A fran­tic Os rushed Naka to the near­est hos­pi­tal and in panic drove over a traf­fic is­land, burst­ing the car’s tyres. Os man­aged to flag down passersby Mta­theni Mu­dau and Pretty Ne­doboni and asked them to drive him and Naka to Net­care Mon­tana Hos­pi­tal. From there, Os called Marzanne. “There was an ur­gency in his voice,” she re­mem­bers. “He said, ‘Get in your car and come’.”

She left Bloem­fontein for Pre­to­ria at 10pm for the 500km trip. Dur­ing the seem­ingly end­less hours on the road, she didn’t know if she’d make it in time.

“I was in shock,” Marzanne re­calls. “I couldn’t even cry. I prayed that if Naka was go­ing to die I’d at least get the chance to say good­bye.”

By the time she ar­rived at the hos­pi­tal Naka was out of the­atre – and alive.

“We couldn’t say any­thing to each other,” Marzanne says. “Naka couldn’t speak any­way. He was in ter­ri­ble pain, but an im­mense grat­i­tude that he was alive en­veloped both of us.”

He spent three days in ICU, un­der­go­ing an­other op­er­a­tion on his arm and on his small in­tes­tine. On 7 De­cem­ber, doc­tors gave him the all-clear and Naka was dis­charged.

But just five days later Marzanne no­ticed he was deathly pale and fever­ish and rushed him to Medi­clinic Bloem­fontein.

“Doc­tors said he had a high fever and pneu­mo­nia and with­out fur­ther ex­pla­na­tion they wheeled him away,” she says. “I stood there in the hall­way, won­der­ing if my hus­band would come out of the­atre alive this time.”

After­wards, doc­tors told them Naka had gone into hy­po­v­olemic shock – los­ing more than 20% of his blood or fluid sup­ply – be­cause of in­ter­nal bleed­ing. His frag­ile body also strug­gled to cope with the pneu­mo­nia.

“When I woke up three days later, I was on a ven­ti­la­tor,” Naka tells us. “I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t move.

“Marzanne fought for me but I wasn’t in­ter­ested. She told me to fight for my sons’ sake, that I should stop star­ing at the ceil­ing and fight.”

“I may have been a bit hard on him,” she ad­mits, but Naka shakes his head.

“How do you let the per­son you love most just give up?” she says. “You don’t – you fight with ev­ery­thing in you to get them to fight too. For me, for my sons, for so many oth­ers.”

Marzanne’s de­ter­mi­na­tion and prayers gave Naka the will to push on.

On 27 De­cem­ber, af­ter 16 days in ICU, he was trans­ferred to a reg­u­lar ward. And just over a week later, he was fi­nally al­lowed to go home.

THE men who nearly killed him haven’t been caught but Naka bears no grudges, he says. “I can’t ex­actly lie in that hos­pi­tal bed and ask God to heal me so I can re­turn to my wife and chil­dren while I har­bour ha­tred in my heart. I have peace – I don’t even have night­mares about it.” Naka is set to start re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion soon to re­gain the use of his right arm. Doc­tors be­lieve he’ll make a full re­cov­ery. Naka’s sons and Marzanne’s daugh­ters, Jeazanne (19) and An­nica (15), were all due to ar­rive the next day to be with the cou­ple – the first time they’d all be to­gether since the at­tack. Naka in­ter­laces his fin­gers in Marzanne’s, then rests his head on her leg, tears welling in his eyes again. “This woman is my rock . . .” he says. “Day and night she watched over me, took over for me when I wanted to stop fight­ing, and made me be­lieve when I felt like I had no hope left. “Be­fore the at­tack I wasn’t some­one who spoke a lot – now I can’t stop talk­ing be­cause I want ev­ery­one to know how almighty God is. “I never want to for­get that I al­most wasn’t here any­more. From now on I have to make each and ev­ery day count.”

‘I re­mem­ber think­ing we prob­a­bly wouldn’t sur­vive any­way’

FAR LEFT: Naka’s wife, Marzanne, dressed up as an an­gel on Christ­mas to lift the spir­its of her hus­band and other pa­tients. Naka says Marzanne is his pil­lar of strength and has been by his side day and night dur­ing his re­cov­ery. LEFT: A re­cov­er­ing Naka with nurses Yolandi Bekker and Tshebo Ma­sitsa at Medi­clinic Bloem­fontein.

GALLO IM­AGES/AFP

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