Crippled by Rift Valley Fever


Their double bed has made way for a hospital bed, oxygen tank, medicines and other medical equipment. Johnny Stephens lies quietly on the bed, groaning occasionally as his wife talks to him.

Although Johnny (51) is paralysed and can’t speak, Erica (46) is convinced he’s aware of his surroundings.

Johnny, of Christiana in North West, is one of 139 South Africans who contracted Rift Valley fever early last year. Fifteen of them suffered brain infections; Johnny is one of two who are still alive.

‘‘You read so much about Rift Valley fever; that those who get it either recover or die,’’ Erica says. ‘‘Johnny is somewhere in between – between recovery and death.’’

He’s Erica’s ‘‘first and only love’’– they began dating when she was in Grade 10. It was their 26th wedding anniversary last month. ‘‘I wonder if he knows that,’’ she says.

Erica sleeps on a single bed in the room and daughter Nadine (19) and son Melvyn (21) take turns to sleep on a mattress nearby. Erica is afraid Johnny might die and she doesn’t want him to be alone.

She’s also optimistic he’ll be healthy again.

‘‘There’s definitely been progress. When he came home [from hospital] he just lay on his bed staring at the ceiling. Now his eyes follow me around the room. I think he’s getting better. I think he’ll be able to speak and walk again one day although I realise he’ll never be the man he was.’’

Caring for Johnny costs about R13 000 a month and they don’t know how much longer they can continue.

‘‘I told Mom we must sell my motorbike,’’ Melvyn says. It was a 21st birthday gift and last April he attended a motorcycle rally with Johnny. That’s where he fell ill.

‘‘It’s our first Christmas without him,’’ Erica says sadly.

Read more about this moving story in YOU, 13 January 2011.

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