No stopping her

2013-04-20 00:00

CATHY de Beer (24) had her world turned upside down in May 2006 when, as a matric pupil at St Anne’s in Hilton, she was diagnosed with kidney failure.

“For someone so young, it was quite a shock and I just thought there’s only one certainty — I’m going to die,” she said.

Seven years later, De Beer leads a normal, active life, having had a kidney transplant and preparing to represent South Africa at squash and swimming in the World Transplant Games in Durban from July 28 to August 3.

This is her second appearance at the games — which are held every two years — and she is keen to defend the 18-to-29 age group squash title she won in Gothenberg, Sweden, in 2011.

In that final, she beat a fellow South African, Alice Vogt, who has had a double lung transplant.

De Beer was an active schoolgirl, keen on the outdoors, hardly ever sitting still and involved in squash and swimming.

She said: “I loved sport and suddenly in matric, things started wobbling. I was constantly tired, always wanting to sleep. I had no energy and found myself making excuses to miss practices and not be involved.

“My parents [Gerald and Linda] are both pharmacists and they suggested I have blood tests. I was found to be anaemic and was given iron tablets. Further extensive tests revealed my creatinine levels were high, meaning the kidneys were not filtering the toxin through my body.

“In short, it meant I had kidney failure. Although the levels were not dangerously high, there was a process to follow, which meant having a scan, which confirmed I needed a transplant.”

This was all confirmed within a month and once De Beer had understood what lay ahead, life returned to normal.

“Once I was over the initial shock, I realised the process was a form of treatment. I continued my normal lifestyle, but could not play any sport and had to change my diet, eating carbohydrates and no protein. My creatinine levels were continually monitored and when they became to high, it was time for the operation.”

Meanwhile, the family prepared for the transplant. Her parents’ kidneys were a perfect match and her mother decided to be the donor.

De Beer continued her matric year and, against the advice of her doctor, went on UCT to read for a B.Com information systems degree.

“I was monitored for three years and had to have tests every three months, which I flew back to Durban for. At the end of 2009, just before my exams to go into my honours year, I was told I had to have the transplant.

“I was allowed to write the exams but had weekly tests done in Cape Town. I had to have the transplant otherwise I would have to undergo dialysis, something I was not keen on,” she said.

On December 4, 2009, De Beer had her transplant during a one-and-a-half hour operation at St Augustine’s in Durban.

“I was in hospital for five days, followed by three months recovery at home. It was like being in quarantine. My immune system had to be built up again and I had to wear a mask. It was lower than normal and doctors did not want the body to reject the kidney, which was a foreign object, right away,” said De Beer.

Many days and hours were spent watching television serials and she recovered well, only missing a week of varsity.

“It wasn’t a great way to spend the holidays, but the transplant did change my life,” she said.

Linda was back at work after six weeks, although De Beer said her mother was in pain and had a massive scar “from her belly button to her spine”.

Back at varsity in her honours year, De Beer continued having blood tests and it was a balancing act with her medication as doctors worked out what was best for her.

She said: “The body will never fully accept the new kidney as it remains a foreign object. However, I am on medication for the rest of my life, having to take tablets every 12 hours.”

The transplant was a success. De Beer could feel the change and her energy returned.

“I couldn’t wait to return to the squash court and a month after the operation, on January 4, 2010, I played again. I was a new person.”

Enjoying the student life, De Beer studied further, spending 2011 looking at geographic information systems (GIS).

She prides herself on succeeding at whatever she takes on and, with this under her belt, returned to Durban where she currently works in the GIS field.

“Life continues for me as normal. I see a doctor every six months and have to be careful not to pick up any fevers.

“Best of all, I can eat normal food again, not just white food, but I still have to watch my protein levels.”

At this year’s transplant games, De Beer has added swimming to her repertoire, taking on the 100 m and 50 m freestyle events.

“The games, although having participants from around the world, are not big, with only a few thousand attending. I hope to defend my squash title, which is far easier than the heavier competition I will have in the pool.

“My squash age group is relatively small with not many competitors, but any medal at swimming will do me fine,” she said.

De Beer is looking forward to the games, especially having them on her doorstep.

“I currently train about three times a week for squash and swimming. The swimming is at the King’s Park Pool where I train and I cannot get closer to home than that. The squash we play at Westville Country Club, so conditions are strongly in my favour.

“My aim is to prove to people that despite having a transplant, we are normal people, can lead a normal life and participate in sport.

“The rules of competition are the same as anywhere else and it’s a revelation to be able to compete,” she said.

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