Wedding Bells for Yunibo Trusts Heart Surgery Survivor
It is another dream-come-true for Pinetown’s Gabriella Grobbelaar (24) who will be walking down the aisle on 25 July 2015 after recently celebrating a year’s survival from double open heart surgery.
Grobbelaar’s fiancé, Michael Pretorius, surprised her by popping the big question shortly after she had started on her road to recovery from the operation which took place at the Ethekwini Hospital and Heart Centre on 09 April 2014 with the help of UKZN medical students Ms Rachel Wilson, Mr Yusuf Khatib and Mr Bonginkosi Mafuze who founded Yunibo Health Trust.
Her condition was initially diagnosed when she was just six weeks old but it was decided that an operation was not necessary as the defect often corrects itself in children around the age of seven. However, Grobbelaar was in and out of hospital as a child.
Grobbelaar spent her childhood unable to play sport and pursue some of her hobbies. Her family struggled to pay cumulative medical bills and she remembers, as a teenager, being put on 2000mg penicillin daily for six years to avoid getting rheumatic heart disease.
‘I just wanted to live a normal life, like everyone else… As my condition declined, my mitral valve started to leak progressively and I went through periods of being in and out of heart failure,’ Grobbelaar said. She said she also missed a lot of school because of her weakened immune system.
Wilson’s second-year MBChB class was studying the heart when she learned of Grobbelaar’s unique heart condition and invited her to be examined by her classmates during a student enrichment session at the Clinical Skills Laboratory headed by Dr Margaret Matthews.
The founders of Yunibo Health Trust approached the general manager of Ethekwini Hospital and Heart Centre, Mr Niresh Bechan, who helped set up the necessary surgical team to operate on Grobbelaar, correcting a congenital ventricular septal defect she had with mitral regurgitation as part of the hospital’s Corporate Social Responsibility programme.
Her family, fiancé and Yunibo Trust recently met to celebrate Grobbelaar’s first anniversary as a heart surgery survivor.
‘We’re so proud of Gabby,’ said her mother, Mrs Betty Grobbelaar, who was very excited about the wedding.
She said all that was happening was very rewarding because it had been a long road with lots of time was spent in and out of hospitals, and with Gabby’s teachers not believing she was ill.
‘To find a solution to the problem is a real blessing. I thank god till today!’
Mrs Grobbelaar said she was happy because Gabby’s confidence levels soared; she had increased chances of bearing grandchildren and live the full cycle of life.
She was also excited to be welcoming her first son-in-law who described Gabby as: ‘kind, sweet, very generous and innocent’ – all of which made her in his eyes very cute.
Grobbelaar’s mother and two sisters were involved in planning Pretorius’ beach proposal.
‘I was really surprised because we had spoken about the whole marriage thing but thought we would put it off for a few more years,’ said Grobbelaar. ‘It feels awesome!’
Gabby said she had no reason to be angry and mope around in life because she was given a second chance. ‘It is possible to be helped, even by complete strangers. I want to do the same for others.’
At first she said she felt bare but has become comfortable with her operation scar and what it represents. She recently went for her final check-up and the doctor said it was safe to not hold back and start pushing her heart a bit more in order for her to reach her full potential.
‘I can exercise and I feel much happier now. I’m more than alive. I feel like I can conquer the world.’
Her family, including 87 year-old granny, Avo, said: ‘Everything in our lives, since Gabby’s operation, has improved. For everyone in our family, the quality of life has gone up in leaps and bounds.’
The couple now looks forward to a country wedding at Tala Valley followed by a honeymoon in Mozambique.
Yunibo Health Trust has, since Gabby’s story, assisted 12-year-old Nomcebo Thwala from the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal who had a rare eye disorder.
Mafuze said Thwala had been lost in the system and not been seen for follow up by doctors. ‘Now she's being helped and monitored by Dr Kapil Moodley and UKZN Ophthalmology Head of Department, Dr Linda Visser.
They have also proceeded to assist two-year-old Brooklyn from Durban who has a rare blood disorder and requires section 21 medication which needs to be imported from other counties adding up to approximately R17 000 per month to survive. The Trust is helping to raise funds to see the patient through.
Although the Trust has not yet made contact with 17-year-old Matthew from Durban who is in desperate need of a heart and lung transplant, the students have been following his story in the media and hope to continue his efforts to encourage people to become organ donors.
‘What we want to do now is to impact locally but be globally recognized,’ said the Trust.
Yunibo will do an official launch later on this year so that people can pledge to the work we they do.
South Africa’s youngest doctor, Dr Sandile Kubeka, was the first to pledge to the Trust and is said to pledge a considerable amount that was not revealed.