Exclusive: Heartbroken father opens up after drowning incident in Australia: 'I asked God to hasten these bitter weeks'

2019-05-06 16:03
Michael and Joshua. (Supplied)

Michael and Joshua. (Supplied)

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It’s late on a Friday evening in the little town of Morayfield, in Queensland, Australia. A hoarse voice answers the telephone.

There’s an eight-hour difference between Johannesburg and Morayfield. With a slight Aussie drawl, Johan Porter (53) introduces himself as "Joe".

When he speaks, he sounds weary.

"The Aussies call me Joe," he says. "It’s easier on the tongue, but you can call me what you’d like."

Johan and his wife, Carmen (40), have been living abroad for the past 15 years.

It’s difficult asking someone in Johan’s situation how it’s going. He and Carmen are passing through stormy seas.

"God won’t give you a cross you can’t bear," is Johan’s courageous answer.

It’s a month after their kids, Michael (2) and Joshua (16 months), fell into the swimming pool at the family’s home, weeks since Johan stood beside their beds at the Queensland children’s hospital and gave doctors permission to switch off the life support machines.

Together he and Carmen saw their once-energetic toddlers die.

It wasn’t the first time they’ve had to say goodbye to one of their children. In 2014, their daughter, Hannah, died after she was born prematurely.

It’s the first time Johan is speaking to the media since the tragedy on March 25.

First his kids – and then his mother.

Michael and Joshua

"I asked God to hasten these bitter weeks," he says. "When I heard my mother died, I said: ‘God, not my mother as well’."

His mother, Lenie (70), had flown from South Africa on April 5 to attend the boys’ joint memorial service on April 7. But on April 30 she died due to a blood clot in her lung and heart.

Johan drifts off to another conversation before he speaks of the tragic ordeal.

"Carmen, my wonderful wife of 19 years, grew up in Pretoria. I’ve been across South Africa, but we met on the rugby field in Bronkhorstspruit," Johan, a diesel mechanic, says.

It was a life-changing incident in 2003 that made the couple want to emigrate in the hopes of a better and safer future. Johan was on his way to work when he thought he’d come across an accident scene. But it turned out to be a botched cash-in-transit robbery.

"There were Uzi machine guns lying around. They started shooting at me. I picked up one of the guns and started shooting ... some of them were armed with AK-47s. I put my arms in the air. We were told to lie on the ground. The security guard was shot right beside me."

In 2004 he and Carmen, a teacher, emigrated after he heard there were job opportunities for diesel mechanics in Australia.

Michael and Joshua

How is he coping with the tragedies of late while being so far from his family in South Africa?

He repeats: "God wouldn’t give me a battle if He knew I couldn’t face it."

Finally, Johan speaks of the tragedy of March 25.

"Carmen works at a daycare centre. Mondays she only works half-day. It’s a routine – when I get to work I call her, when I leave work I call her."

Johan says when he and Carmen spoke the afternoon before he left work, he heard the children’s voices in the background.

"I told Carmen I first wanted to buy each child a chocolate before I go home. Joshie still shouted: ‘Dadda!’ I could hear Michael ask when Dadda was coming home. In those two minutes Carmen and I spoke, both kids went running out the front door. In those two minutes everything changed."

Michael and Joshua

He says when Carmen suspected something was amiss, she immediately went looking for the kids.

"When she came around the corner of the house she immediately felt something was wrong. As she moved closer she first saw Michael in the swimming pool."

Johan pauses for a moment. The silence seems tangible.

"She dived into the swimming pool. She took Michael out and put him on the edge of the pool. Then she saw Joshie. She took him out. The paramedics said they don’t know how she managed to perform CPR on both. It was an impossible task but she did it. At that time I was still unaware of what had happened."

Carmen phoned him after emergency services arrived. Johan says he’s unsure of who called them.

"She burst into tears. I asked: ‘What’s wrong?’ She just said: ‘Just come home.’

"I knew something was wrong. I didn’t know what it was or how bad it was... When I turned into our street, when I saw the ambulance, then I knew: here’s a problem. I walked around the house. I saw they were busy with the kids. I saw how they were trying to calm Carmen. Then I cracked."

Johan went with Michael to the Caboolture Hospital in the neighbouring suburb of Caboolture. Carmen accompanied Joshua to the Lady Cilento Hospital, also known as the Queensland Children’s Hospital, in the south of Brisbane. The hospital is situated more than 50km south of Morayfield.

Later that day, when he was stabilised, Michael was transferred to Queensland via helicopter. 

Church friends jumped in to support them and took Johan to the hospital so he wouldn’t have to drive himself.

"Michael was pronounced braindead on the Friday."

Michael and Joshua

After Michael’s death, Joshua’s condition deteriorated drastically.

"He’d started breathing on his own again. I believed wholeheartedly that my kids would come home."

A day after they’d lost Michael, Joshua’s machine had to be switched off.

The couple decided to donate the children’s organs. Ten children have been helped by this gesture.

"My sons saved lives. Maybe another parent is sitting at their child’s bedside, earnestly praying and then their miracle comes. It’s not my duty to question anything. I’m just praying to God for the difficult weeks to pass, that I’ll accept everything I can’t change, that He’ll use me as an instrument for other parents."

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