Heartwarming tale of courage and romance

2014-08-25 00:00

GABRIELLA Grobbelaar (23) has had a serious heart condition since birth but becoming a bridesmaid at a cousin’s wedding last year led to a life-changing operation.

A fellow bridesmaid, Rachel Wilson, sister to the groom, happened to be a student doctor.

“I told her I had a heart condition and she was interested,” said Grobbelaar, who lives in New Germany. “She listened to my heart and went, ‘Oh my goodness!’.”

Grobbelaar was born with a congenital ventricular septal defect, commonly known as a hole in the heart, but was not operated on as such defects often close by the age of seven.

But Grobbelaar’s condition did not improve and by the time she was in secondary school, “I was in and out of hospital. I was really ill all the time.”

In addition, the stress on Grobbelar’s heart caused her mitral valve to leak and, to make matters worse, she was misdiagnosed and put on “the wrong medication for six years”.

Grobbelaar’s family didn’t have the funds to pay for the necessary surgery and after matric she worked at three jobs, including waitressing, to pay for her medical bills while also studying for a marketing diploma.

Grobbelaar saved up enough money to see a heart specialist in private practice for a second opinion. Dr David Gillmer, a cardiologist at eThekwini Hospital and Heart Centre, correctly diagnosed her condition and changed her medication. “However he recommended I get medical aid as my condition would require surgery within five or six years.”

Then Grobbelaar met Wilson, who, after listening to her heart, invited Grobbelaar to be “real” patient for her fellow students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s medical school. Moved by her plight, two students, Yusuf Khatib and Bonginkosi Mafuze, teamed up with Wilson to form a trust, Yunibo Health, to work with private healthcare centres via their corporate social responsibility programmes, with Grobbelaar as their first candidate for free surgery.

As a result Grobbelaar underwent surgery at eThekwini Hospital and Heart Centre on April 9.

“I’m still in the healing process, but I’ve got my colour back,” said Grobbelaar. “Before I was really pale all the time. I’m very excited.”

Grobbelaar is also on an exercise regime. “I have to walk up stairs a certain number of times each day to get back to a condition where I can really exercise.”

The operation had an unexpected outcome, it “also prompted immediate action from my boyfriend, Michael, who went down on one knee and proposed to me.”

Grobbelaar is now looking forward to planning her own wedding day.

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