“I was pronounced dead at the scene of my accident – but I wasn’t”

Driving isn't always a fun experience
Driving isn't always a fun experience

How’s this for a near death experience: A car accident left 48-year-old Cesaltina da Cunha medically dead at the scene, but miraculously, she lived to tell the tale…

I had just dropped my youngest child at school in May 2009 and was on my way to work our three horses in Krugersdorp, where I live. I was driving at 112km/hour when a reckless driver jumped a stop street and smashed into my vehicle on the driver’s side. The chassis folded in two and I was trapped in the passenger seat, where the impact had shifted me.

READ MORE: “I felt completely normal, but my blood pressure was through the roof”

Cesaltina’s “death” 

My only visible injury was a long jagged cut from my right cheek to my ear, but I had no heartbeat or pulse and had stopped breathing. I was pronounced dead.

At school, my daughter somehow sensed something was wrong and started to pray for me. After some time, the paramedics managed to get a pulse, stabilised me and I was taken to hospital. My pelvis was fractured in four places on the right side. I had four broken ribs, a punctured lung, which had filled with fluid, and, by the time I was wheeled into theatre, my chances of survival were slim.

READ MORE: “The drink spiker robbed me of my last memory with my dad” 

And her recovery

I lay in hospital for 35 days waiting for my broken body to mend, followed by six months of intensive rehab – one leg was shorter than the other due to the way my pelvis had fractured. It was another nine months before I could walk without crutches.

At 48 I still did ballet and martial arts, trained horses and taught personal training. When the orthopaedic surgeon told me I would never be the same again, that I would have pain for the rest of my life and swimming would be my only exercise, I thanked him. I resolved to prove him wrong on all counts.

I’ve just turned 54 and I still teach personal training, do Ballet Barre and Tae Bo and I can still sail a catamaran in high-speed winds. The permanent scar across my cheek reminds me of that almost-fateful day. Pain is my daily validation that I’m stronger than what happened to me. It’s a miracle that I survived and I know I was given a second chance to be the person I was meant to be, to be there for my children and to live my best life.

READ MORE: “These 7 simple yoga stretches got me walking again after a stroke” 

Tips from Arrive Alive 

1. Get enough rest – being sleepy behind the wheel is just as dangerous as driving drunk.

2. Time your drive – accidents occur most frequently at closing time for bars and clubs.

3. Wear. Your. Seatbelt. A mere 40 percent of South Africans buckle up, yet research shows it reduces your chance of death or serious injury in a car crash by 75 percent.

4. Be seen – drive with your lights on, even in daylight.

5. Save this ER number to your phone: 084 124. 

This article was originally published in Women's Health SA

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