When Ivan and Angelique Francke were expecting their first born seven years ago, they believed they’d be having a healthy baby boy. Not one sonar or test showed that their unborn child was anything but normal.
But their son, Jade, was diagnosed with spina bifida at birth. Spina bifida is a birth defect in which there’s an incomplete closing of the spine and membranes around the spinal cord during, according to Wikipedia.
There aren’t any recent figures for South Africa but in the US, 1 500 to 2 000 babies out of the 4 million born each year, are born with the condition.
“Neither of us smoked or drank. We were very healthy,” Ivan (now 50) says of when Angelique was pregnant.
“This is my first and only child. I was getting old and had been waiting so long for a child. We really thought he’d be healthy and get to live a normal life.”
But shortly after Jade’s birth, doctors told the couple their child would never walk or talk.
“We were terribly sad. It felt as if our whole world had collapsed,” Ivan recalls.
But Jade’s parents didn’t give up on their son. And now, nine surgeries later, Jade was able to get dressed in his school uniform and go to school for the first time in Paarl, their hometown.
It had been a challenging journey for the Franckes up to this point.
“When Jade was just 11 hours old, they transferred him to a different hospital. There he was in surgery for eight hours to close his spine.”
The couple could only take their baby boy home for the first time when he was four months old, and only for a short period.
“When Jade was six months old, he developed fluid on the brain and had to go back to hospital so doctors could drain the fluid. Then he had another eight surgeries before he could come home again,” Ivan says.
Ivan and Angelique worked with a speech therapist and a physiotherapist to assist with Jade’s speech and to help his legs develop so he could crawl and later walk.
“I almost lost my child. But now, he’s able to walk with a frame. And he can speak, though not fluently. We’re so happy about that.”
Jade started his school career at a school for children with special needs in Paarl. The family sees it as an incredible milestone.
“Millions of children are born with the condition Jade has. But we want to tell parents not to give up, even if doctors tell them something’s impossible.
“Your child can be healthy.”