Devastated mom Estelle van Niekerk (26) hasn’t been able to hold her seven-month-old son, Ayden, in weeks.
The baby still needs round-the-clock care at the Netcare Garden City Hospital in Johannesburg after choking on a piece of biltong in the family home in Lydenburg in Mpumalanga.
Estelle recently noticed her little boy had cut his first teeth while lying motionless in his hospital cot and it broke her heart. She’s missed so much of his baby stage, she adds.
Ayden was with his grandmother, Elise (46), on 6 May when he choked on a piece of biltong designed for teething babies she’d bought at a local pharmacy.
Estelle and her boyfriend, Sarel Nortjé (35), who’s Ayden’s dad, both work in the mining industry.
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Elise had given Ayden the biltong earlier in the day to suck on. When he was fed his baby food at lunchtime, he started having trouble breathing – a piece of biltong had lodged in his throat.
Sarel noticed the baby’s lips turning blue and started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Estelle, who had been at work, rushed home and a neighbour drove the family to their local GP.
From there, he was airlifted to Netcare Garden City Hospital, where he’s been in paediatric ICU ever since. Ayden was put into a medically induced coma because of the swelling on his brain and had to be put on a ventilator.
There have been several setbacks since he was hospitalised: he developed sepsis and an infection in his lung.
He was brought out of the coma about three weeks ago and given a tracheotomy to help him breathe but it’s been an uphill battle all the way.
“I can see he has withdrawal symptoms from the pain medication and if he’s off oxygen for too long he starts hyperventilating,” Estelle says.
Estelle and Elise are staying in student accommodation in Melville, Johannesburg, so they can be close to the hospital but Sarel has had to return to work. The family have started a support group on Facebook and are asking people to pray for them.
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Estelle says she spends up to five hours by her baby’s side. “But I haven’t been able to hold him at all. It drains your energy to sit there. It’s horrible.
“I look at him and I think of how things were. I’d spend time with him in the morning and in the evenings, once we were home from work. He’d be in his walking ring, playing around in the lounge or watching TV with us.”
Her greatest wish now is that he’ll begin breathing on his own so they can start rehabilitation.
“I think once I can hold him again, his recovery will speed up.”
For now all she can do is hope her little boy hasn’t sustained brain damage. “We’ll only know for sure when he has another MRI,” she says.
“He lifts his arms and legs, he moves his toes and his eyes follow me. All we can do for now is pray.”