What listeriosis stole from us

2018-03-11 06:00
Listeriosis is one of the serious food-borne illnesses you can contract from bacteria.

Listeriosis is one of the serious food-borne illnesses you can contract from bacteria.

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Thembeka Lukhele’s* son survived for only 21 days, during which he fought the deadly listeriosis disease that has so far claimed the lives of 78 other infants.

She may have survived the disease, but Lukhele (28), who lives in Midrand, bears the Caesarean section scar as a painful reminder of what she yearned for and lost to the food-borne disease.

“I was so looking forward to being a mother for the first time, and for so long I blamed myself. Now I don’t know how many times I clean the fridge … I’m even afraid to eat,” Lukhele said, adding that she would never be able to forget her tragic experience.

She and another mother from Pretoria, Zinhle Zwane* (32), this week told City Press about their shared pain of losing their babies to listeriosis.

Both women asked not to be identified because their families felt uncomfortable about having their names printed.

Lukhele said: “I think it started after Christmas … I started feeling really weak, like I was about to have flu. I just thought it was the pregnancy at the time and didn’t think much of it until January 7, when I started feeling the same discomfort and pain I normally felt a day before I would start my period.”

Two days later, the pain intensified and she was checked into Zamokuhle Private Hospital in Tembisa. She was bleeding and had ruptured membranes, but was not dilated.

“My gynaecologist told me they needed to take my boy out if he was to have any chance of survival. I was rolled into the theatre. When he [the infant] came out, he was breathing, but it wasn’t promising,” she said.

Lukhele and her son were being given antibiotics to fight the infection, but then Lukhele was diagnosed with listeriosis the day after the boy was born.

“The doctor told me the disease had been eating away at my membranes and that he didn’t know how my baby survived for so long in my womb. My son died on January 31,” she said.

Nurses asked her to complete a questionnaire about what food she had been eating.

Initially, she believed she may have contracted the bacteria from cheese she had eaten.

“But when I saw the minister [Aaron Motsoaledi] on TV saying it was in polony, only then did it start coming back to me. Late November last year, I ate polony almost daily. It was that normal Enterprise polony with the red cover. I remember I bought the small one … I ate this because I didn’t have time to make a proper lunch box,” Lukhele recalled.

She is battling depression and anxiety, and she is still in therapy.

“I see a lot of people joking about listeriosis on social media, but when I look at my scar, I remember that I should have a child. That child was taken from me by something out of my control.

“It wasn’t my mistake, buying that polony – I didn’t know. It was the company that was careless. And now they are on TV [denying it] and they are so arrogant.”

Meanwhile, Zwane said she ate chicken polony as a morning snack when she was six months pregnant with her second child.

In early December, she started feeling very cold and, instinctively knowing that something was wrong, she asked her husband to drive her to hospital.

“I told the doctor that I was scared of listeriosis and she gave me a Panado drip to treat the fever. A few minutes later, she said she had just checked her computer and had seen an email about the listeriosis [outbreak]. That is why she didn’t know about it, but she said I had nothing to worry about,” Zwane said.

She was discharged from hospital.

A few days later, on December 13, she consulted her gynaecologist, who told her she urgently needed to be booked into the Mediclinic Gynaecological Hospital in Sunnyside, Pretoria.

“Everything happened so fast. I was shaking and my water broke and I gave birth. The baby was so tiny … my son died the following day. This is one of the worst things that can happen to anyone. I cry a lot thinking about it.

“I went back to work and couldn’t cope, and took anxiety pills for a week. I am better now, although I still cry every now and then because I was only supposed to give birth next month,” Zwane said.

*Not their real names

Read more on:    enterprise  |  health  |  listeriosis

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