“I walk, I run, I dance, I sing . . . I’m quite healthy,” a cheerful Taylië Jaap tells YOU.
Taylië, a BSc microbiology student at Stellenbosch University, nearly died after falling from a second-storey window in May, hitting her heard hard on the pavement.
In the early hours of 26 May 2019, she plunged about seven metres from the window of the Serruria women’s residence on the university campus.
She hit the paved walkway so hard that doctors feared she might be brain dead. She was unconscious when admitted to Stellenbosch Hospital and later transferred to Tygerberg Hospital in Parow, Cape Town.
Her brother Rual, adoptive mom Charmaine Leonard and Rual’s mom-in-law Charmaine Maarman stayed at her bedside for hours.
In an earlier interview with YOU, Rual recalled his shock on seeing his sister. “There was
blood everywhere – on the bandages on her head and on her pillow. She had tubes in her mouth.
Her arm had been bandaged but we could see it was broken.”
Taylië’s “Atta”, as she calls her adoptive mom, says she felt faint when she first saw her daughter in hospital and needed support to stay on her feet. Doctors told the family if Taylië showed no response within three hours, she’d be pronounced brain dead.
The family believes it was by divine intervention that she started breathing independently and moving later that day. Now, more than six months later, Taylië agrees with their view.
Having experienced extreme physical trauma, she has some aches and pains, but nothing too serious, she says. She’s been back at varsity for a while, in the same res, and is excited to continue her studies.
Taylië and her doctors have waited patiently for the swelling of her brain to decrease. Indications are that the former head girl of Schoonspruit Secondary School in Malmesbury hasn’t sustained any long-term brain damage.
Shortly after returning to campus she did a short maths exercise to test herself. “I got 17 out of 20,” she says. “We thought I’d start off slowly, but that wasn’t the case.
“I think the whole incident, the recovery process was grace. I’m blessed.”
She spent two and a half months at Tygerberg Hospital and in rehab at Karl Bremer Hospital, where she received physio- and occupational therapy.
In August she was still struggling to open her eyes at the same time – apparently because the swelling of her brain hadn’t completely subsided. Taylië, who’s always been confident and strong-minded, says in her first week back on campus in mid-August she was “still shy”.
Going back to campus
“I felt students who knew me before would think, ‘Shame, now she has only the one eye, the hair’s gone – she doesn’t look like the old Taylië anymore’.”
Her long locks were shaved off to deal with injuries on the back of her head.
She says when she first returned to varsity, she hid behind dark glasses and covered her head with a scarf.
A while later a pastor came to the res to offer her prayers. “For the last swelling to go down and for the problem with my eye,” she says. Afterwards a friend wanted to do her makeup for her. “And when she took my glasses off, she said, ‘Taylië, both your eyes are open!’ ”
She laughs. “Of course, we just had to make a video.”
In the past year, she says, she learnt what friendship is and who her real friends are. One of her friends offered sage advice. “She told me the scars on my face tell my story, and that my hair would grow back – I needed to embrace it all. And I have.
“It was hard at first. I took small steps, didn’t pressure myself. I was honest with myself. I got rid of all negativity and stopped wasting time with unnecessary nonsense.
“At times, I struggled to sleep, but that’s over now too. I told myself, ‘Taylië, you’re isolating yourself – come out of your shell.’ And that’s when I started embracing everything.”
Her head injuries aside, she also fractured her right wrist in the fall and hurt vertebrae in her lower back.
Her wrist was set during a surgery with screws and plates, and the vertebrae pushed back into position. Because her head injuries required her to be sedentary for a long time, it took a while before she could walk unaided. She also wore a back brace.
In the weeks after the accident, she says she sometimes prayed for God to fetch her. “I’m too young for all this pain – my head, arm, back, everything hurts.”
But most of it is now in the past. “I sometimes get back pain – it’ll probably catch up with me when I’m older – and a bit of a headache.”
But it’s not nearly as bad as before, and not as frequent, Taylië says. Her right wrist isn’t that flexible either. “It doesn’t work 100% but I can write with the hand. It’s all right.”
Physiotherapy will hopefully help improve things.
Her right eye still bothers her a bit. “Looking out of the corner of my eye, I see something like a shadow. But that’s getting better too.”
Taylië has no doubts about what helped her recovery. “First, faith and hope – staying positive. And love and support.”
Specifically the love and support of her adoptive parents, “Atta” and uncle Hein. And her “Auntie Charmaine” Maarman, who’s been like a mother to her since her own mom, Alicia, passed away in 2016. Her mom had suffered a stroke after being violently attack and never recovered.
Taylië is also grateful to other family members and friends who supported her in what’s been an extremely tough year for her.
Charmaine believes the fact that Taylië was able to hear the voices of her visitors while lying critically injured in hospital also played a part.
“I told her she needed to thank the Lord, and that everyone’s prayers also contributed to her recovery,” Charmaine says.
“She’s always had a fighting spirit, she’s really a strong girl – once she’s set her mind on something. I think hearing the voices of people who care for her in hospital made her more determined, made her even stronger.
“But really, it’s all just grace.”