Loadshedding the greatest risk to her life right now, says woman dependant on oxygen machine since 13

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Karabo Baloyi needs electricity to be able to breath.
Karabo Baloyi needs electricity to be able to breath.

When Eskom announces loadshedding, she gets anxious. 

She's not worried about how she's going to cook supper, or get any work done or even study. 

Karabo Baloyi wonders if this is the loadshedding that will bring her death, literally. 

She starts panicking and then her grandmother, Lydia Pani (80), tries to find solutions in a darkened Meadowlands, Soweto. 

It's hell living like this, she shares.

And as loadshedding goes on for longer, her only option is to head to the hospital every time the power goes off - which is several times a day - or get a back-up generator, which she can't afford. 

Karabo (20) relies on an electric oxygen machine to breath. 

When she was just 12 years old, Karabo was diagnosed with bronchiectasis, which means she has holes in her lungs.

Doctors also found Karabo’s lungs were filled with water.

“And they couldn’t find where the problem was exactly until blood tests were done, and in September that year [2013].

“They found that I had tuberculosis. There was already so much damage because it was hidden, so it made holes in my lungs.”

She tells us that her condition got worse last year to a point that when she coughed, she would spit blood.

A few months later, Karabo got a lung infection, aspergillosis, which made it difficult for her to breath.

Read more | ‘I’m sorry about that!’ Ramaphosa exclaims as loadshedding strikes halfway through keynote address

“I was not feeling well so I went to the healthcare facility and was admitted because of the infection,” she tells Drum.

She's been using an oxygen machine to help her breathe for years and is vulnerable to infections. 

Karabo, who wanted to become a doctor, says during loadshedding she's filled with anxiety with her backup gas cylinder hardly lasting until the power comes back.

“If we are loadshedding for many hours a day, it becomes a problem and my oxygen at times is not enough to last me for few more days, because sometimes the power can go for days.”

This is due to power outages that often follow loadshedding in their area. 

Every month, Karabo receives a gas cylinder. Three litres last her for up to six hours, she says. 

“Sometimes it happens that they take the power for more than six hours or more than that, so it runs out and I can’t rush to the hospital if I am not sick. My lungs are fragile, I can get any infections from hospitals. So I do not have any other plans.”

She says her electric concentrator doesn’t have a battery that she can charge, which would mean using it for a few hours before reaching for her backup, the gas cylinder.

Karabo Baloyi
Karabo Baloyi

“It only functions with electricity, you do not charge it, so I plug it while I am chilled wherever in the house and if the power goes off, it also goes off.”

She says that is why she is unable to go out and socialise with people as a result. “I do not do it because I won’t have oxygen if I do.”

The loadshedding announcements have been traumatising, even though they've become such a norm now.

“I am now numb, I do not know how to feel anymore because it really freaks me out and stressed me out so much.”

Read more | Loadshedding stage 6 – what now? This is what it’s like when loadshedding is your daily reality

“I just wish that I can get a mini generator at least for when the power goes off and an extra cylinder and that way things will be better and easier,” she appeals.

She says after her parents passed on, she moved in with her grandmother, Lydia who is a pensioner.

“And she cannot afford the generator as well the extra gas cylinder that’s why every time there is no power, she takes me to another place and sometimes we would find that it also doesn’t have electricity and that cause so much stress to her.”

She says the only thing that will help her is to get a lung transplant which is an expensive operation. 

Her main goal right now? To find a donor who can sponsor a mini generator or a gas cylinder, just so she can keep breathing when Eskom switches off the power for hours at a time. 

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