She left the country in a wheelchair suffering from a condition that causes so much pain it has been compared to that experienced during childbirth.
With no more hope and shoulders slouched, then 14-year-old Heather Botha was wheeled onto the plane by her mother, Hayleigh Botha, on their way to Arkansas in the US to get Heather the necessary treatment for her condition.
Now, almost a year later, Heather (15) is finally pain-free and this time she entered the airport building in Nelson Mandela Bay by doing cartwheels, something that she hadn’t been able to do for four years.
PE Express previously reported about Heather, a former gymnast and dancer from Westering, who had been in agonising pain on a daily basis since she was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) four years ago.
CRPS is a chronic pain condition that affects one or more parts of the body usually after an injury. Heather mostly felt the pain in her feet, midsection, jaw, chest and left arm.
Sound was the main source of her pain that she described as a burning sensation as if she was on fire.
Even the sound of rain made her feet hurt.
She couldn’t stand the feeling of water on her skin and constantly wore noise-cancelling headphones.
After struggling with fund-raising efforts for quite a while, the family finally managed to get enough money raised for Heather and Hayleigh to head abroad. They left for the US in January this year.
The treatment that Heather received, under guidance of South African-born Dr Katinka van der Merwe, is the Katman Vegas nerve adjustment technique at a world-renowned neurological centre in Arkansas, called Spero Clinic.
At the clinic, there is a tradition where patients who recover from CRPS, ring the “bell of no pain.” After many challenges, excruciating pain, a few hospital admissions and some financial strain, Heather eventually got her miracle when she rang the “bell of no pain” last month.
“Heather is a different person and I cannot begin to describe how amazing it is to see her like this,” a very emotional Hayleigh said.
“She is physically active all of the time. She wakes up early in the morning and wants to start living and start the day, making up for all the lost time by doing all the things she hadn’t been able to do for years,” Hayleigh explained.
“When we came home [last week] her cousins slept over and they’ve been going for walks with the dog. She can run and ride a bicycle now and even take a shower after we used to wash her in bed.”
Hayleigh mentioned that they took Heather to the beach for the first time in three years because she couldn’t wait to go.
“The other day she went to Checkers, something that would be a normal activity for others, but for Heather to go inside a shop with all the sounds, it was a huge thing for her.
When asked how she feels about her new pain-free life, Heather said that she feels amazing and super excited to go to school next year and experience everything again.
“It feels like I’ve been born again and that I’m a new person. It is a completely new life now; it’s completely different and I’m so excited,” Heather said.
Her recovery didn’t come without its fair share of challenges, however. and started with Heather being admitted to hospital in February to receive a feeding tube in her stomach as she lost the ability for her stomach to digest food.
ALSO READ | Teen with rare condition in pain 'worse than childbirth'
This is due to a condition called gastroparesis, which is related to CRPS.
In July, she had a few seizures, also related to her CRPS, which delayed her treatment by a week.
In September, the feeding tube in her stomach was no longer working and she had to spend days in the hospital for it to be changed it to a feeding tube that bypasses her stomach to the small intestine.
Also in September, Heather’s intracranial hypertension caused problems with her balance, so they had to seek treatment from specialists.
Heather was also diagnosed with scoliosis due the fact that she was bedridden at the time that she had her growth spurt.
“This was by far the most major setback to her treatment as much of the time was spent rectifying this condition and the problems it caused before CRPS could be tackled properly.
“We were then also in desperate need of funds to be able to stay in America as her treatment time had been extended,” Hayleigh explained.
However, the situation improved; Heather’s condition went into remission and they were ready to come back home when suddenly Hayleigh and later also Heather, were diagnosed with COVID-19 and had to delay their trip home.
“I really thought we were going to be stuck in America so much longer but we’re home now.
“I have missed my son so much and Heather is healthy. We are looking forward to a new start next year.”