Crossing paths with unsung heroes

2017-02-28 06:01
Voluntary Emergency Medical Assistance volunteers, Juan du Plessis (left) and Stuart Jeacocks. Photo: tania sandberg

Voluntary Emergency Medical Assistance volunteers, Juan du Plessis (left) and Stuart Jeacocks. Photo: tania sandberg

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OUR community is filled with ordinary people doing extra-ordinary things. My path recently crossed two of these unsung heroes, Stuart Jeacocks and Juan du Plessis. 

Jeacocks and Du Plessis are both Voluntary Emergency Medical Assistance (Vema) volunteers.  Both have full-time employment elsewhere, but volunteering with Vema is their passion.

Jeacocks was born and bred in Amanzimtoti, and Du Plessis moved here four years ago from Umkomaas.  Jeacocks spent eight years overseas and says it has taught him a lot about interacting with people from different cultures.

“We get a kick out of assisting others and it is great to be able to give back to the community. Most challenging, one always needs to understand that your work is based on the misfortune of others.
“It is pleasant working with Juan, to work alongside someone whose passion it is to provide help to others,” Jeacocks said.

“Working with Stuart is enjoyable to the extent that we both just ‘click’. We have been working together for a year, but he joined Vema three years ago,” Du Plessis said.

“Vema’s strength is that we have access to higher powers and can seek medical advice, also all the legal aspects are covered, which is important when dealing with medical emergencies,” Jeacocks said.

Both have families and say they are thankful for their partner’s support.
“Without your family and their support it is very difficult to do what you need to do, it is often that we need to talk and they are the first people we talk to,” Jeacocks said.

He is married to Kimberley and they have daughter and a baby on the way.
Du Plessis and Crystal Rosendal are in a long-term relationship and have a four-year-old son. Du Plessis is employed by Sappi, and Jeacocks daytime job is acting station commander at the Durban Fire Department.  

“Vema is a registered service provider that works with the police, fire department and other emergency service providers. When we are one of the first emergency services on scene our role is just to ensure the safety of everyone and [ensure] scene safety, crowd control and to wait for the fire department to finish and ensure the fire men are safe,” Jeacocks added.

Both agree it is rewarding when they see someone they have assisted who are doing well, or hear they are better. The most traumatic is when they have to assist children.  “We treat them like our own, they really hit your soft spot,” Jeacocks said.
“You can’t do emergency rescue 24/7 without giving your mind and your eyes a rest. It will eat you up. How you deal with the job is to look at how you can help, and do not look at the bad side,” he added.

Not only do they volunteer their services for free, but both incur their own costs, such as using their own vehicles, tyres, fuel and their kits and equipment.

“This is our give-back to our community. We know people sometimes battle to get medical assistance and the fact that we can focus on our area, from Amanzimtoti to Umkomaas when we are available, means a quicker response.  “Today we heard on the radio that someone collapsed and we managed to get there in three minutes. This is because we are close and not as committed as the other emergency services,” Jeacocks explains.

He said the difference between Vema and other medical response services is that they do not transport patients, they merely stabilise them. They do however, have easy access to other emergency services.

When Du Plessis is not volunteering or working, he spends time with his son, fixes things around the house and fishes.
Jeacocks also spends time with his family or surfing in his spare time.

Vema can be contacted for free emergency assistance on 083 630 0000. It works the same as other services, a call is logged and the central switchboard will despatch and it is monitored 24/7, 365 days a year.

Phones are diverted to members on a rotational cycle and they will notify the relevant services to back them up when needed. 

A short history of Vema

Vema was founded in 2005 by Mark Easton and Derek More, an intermediate life support and basic life support paramedic. 

Easton and More decided to pool their resources and expertise with two other paramedics in Hillcrest and then formulated a voluntary organisation that would respond to medical emergencies within the Outer West Council area of Durban. As the area has developed, a number of other qualified persons joined them and today the organisation has a team of 15. 

Vema provides high quality, rapid, volunteer-based initial medical first response service. Vema ensures trained providers, who are registered with the Health Professions Council of SA, for medical emergencies, trauma and other incidents within the Upper Highway area and surrounds as a prelude to the arrival of full-time emergency services, so that patient outcome is improved.

The organisation is officially recognised by the private and state ambulance services as well as eThekwini Fire and Metro Police services. As a volunteer organisation, they rely on sponsorship to fund equipment and consumables and donations in either cash or kind are appreciated.

For more information, contact 083 630 0000.

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