Ambulance saga: Three lives that could've been saved

2015-10-05 06:00

Siyavuya Dalicingo (12), died 2013

Nophelo Dalicingo’s son came home from school complaining of excruciating stomach pain. His mother gave him stomach-cramp medication, but it didn’t help. 

Siyavuya vomited throughout the night and his mum decided to take him to Madwaleni Hospital the next day. 

He was examined by a doctor, who transferred him to Mthatha for an operation. 

Nophelo says she didn’t understand what was wrong with her son, but knew that he needed help urgently. 

The doctor called an ambulance at around 9am, but it only arrived six hours later. When it did, Nophelo was happy her son would finally be treated at Mthatha Hospital. 

Her anxiety worsened, though, when she discovered that the ambulance driver was the only one in the vehicle, and it contained virtually no medical equipment. She got into the back of the ambulance with Siyavuya. 

On the way, Dalicingo says, “Siyavuya began to vomit and complained about terrible stomach pain. 

“The driver stopped on the side of the road and attended to him, but there was no equipment for him to help my son. Siyavuya was becoming worse and the driver decided to take us to Xhora Clinic because we were still far from Mthatha.” 

When they arrived, Siyavuya was unresponsive and she thought her son was dead. Staff told them to go back to Madwaleni Hospital. There, the same doctor who had examined him confirmed he was gone. 

“I still don’t know what the cause of his death was. 

“I know that we waited for an ambulance for six hours and then my son died during the trip to the hospital. I will never forget the wait at Madwaleni Hospital, the trip in the empty ambulance and how there was no one to help Siyavuya.” 

Limyoli Mahlati (2), died January 2013 

Ntombizilungile Mahlathi (61) said that the same day her little grandson Limyoli was discharged from Butterworth Hospital, he died after suffering a seizure because the ambulance took five hours to arrive. 

They had just arrived home in Sihlabeni village in Ngqamakhwe when Limyoli became restless with a soaring temperature, and started crying uncontrollably. 

“The first time I called the ambulance, I was told there were no vehicles in Butterworth and we should wait for one coming from East London,” she said. 

“I called them every 30 minutes. I personally called the ambulance from 7pm and it only arrived at midnight.” 

Mahlathi said it was barely 10 minutes after Limyoli was taken by the ambulance that he died. 

“He had a seizure. He died in the ambulance. It shows that if the ambulance had arrived on time, my grandchild would still be alive today. Those people from the ambulance that day did not care. I still blame them for the child’s death. It was unnecessary and avoidable,” she said. 

At her home on Friday, Ntombizilungile told City Press her family was distraught at losing their little boy. 

“We immediately told the ambulance to turn back because we did not want other expenses of funeral homes and all. So we conducted a small ceremony in the early hours of the next morning and buried the child with a few close family members,” she said. 

“In South Africa today, it seems that if you are poor and living in rural areas, your life is meaningless. 

“This does not happen in urban areas. That child should not have died. He had a right to life, as is prescribed in the Constitution.” 


Vuyisile Mbelebele (72), died May 2012

Nomfundo Mbelebele (41) recalls how she helplessly watched her father die because the ambulance did not arrive. 

Her father, Vuyisile, had been diagnosed with cancer of the mouth, and would still be alive if the ambulance had come to their home in Mvimvane village, 10km outside Lusikisiki. 

Desperate to save him, Nomfundo, his eldest child, said she phoned emergency services almost every five minutes from 9am until 3pm while her father was struggling to breathe. 

He eventually died. 

“All this time, they said they were on their way. They asked me for directions to my home and said they were coming. At 12pm, I told them my father’s condition had worsened. They asked me if it was still necessary for them to come, because they did not want to waste time and travel so far, only find to him dead,” she said, fighting back tears. 

“I told them he was still alive and they should hurry. They asked me to carry him on my back to the nearest access road because our roads are bad. I told them I could not do that as cars are able to drive to our home. We waited and waited until my father died. They never arrived or phoned to say they were delayed or lost.” 

Ironically, the mortuary van they later called took about 30 minutes to arrive. 

“My father was in terrible pain all this time we waited for the ambulance. I watched as his life slowly slipped away. I was not there when he took his final breath. I left his room at 2pm as his condition deteriorated,” she said. 

Nomfundo, her brother Lucky and mother, Noluntu, struggled to bury him because they had all survived on his pension and now relied on the generosity of neighbours and friends. 

“It was hard to accept that my father was gone. It still is, to this day. He was everything to us and he loved his family very much. We miss his jokes and love every day,” she said. 

Sitting on the bed where her father died, Nomfundo said her father would hire a car from the village for R300 to take him to hospital, but had no money that day. 

Now a part-time coordinator at the Treatment Action Campaign, Nomfundo wants her father’s death to be a lesson to ambulance drivers. 

“Nobody cares about us here in rural areas. When you call an ambulance, all they care about is the condition of the roads. I just hope my father did not die in vain and that his story will help save other people’s lives,” she said.

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