Baby Theunsie's story didn't have a happy start.
Born in a Wendy house on 31 January 2022 in Vanderbijlpark, near a municipal dump, he was the child of heroin addicts who abandoned him in a car wreck when he was just four days old.
A resident of the area found him, starving and dehydrated, wearing only a nappy and covered in ant and flea bites.
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Stray dogs were sitting with him in the car.
The police were called, and they in turn contacted child welfare services. Social workers asked foster parents Anita Rademan (50) and her husband, Fritz (50), if they could look after the baby.
Anita and Fritz were already foster parents to 15-year-old Wesley and five-year-old Ethan.
“When the social workers called me, I first said no because it was going to be difficult. We weren't in a position to take in a newborn baby,” Anita says.
The social workers told Anita that because it was a weekend, they had no one else to look after the baby. The couple then agreed to take him, but only for the weekend.
“When I saw this poor skinny baby at the welfare office I got so emotional. I looked at his face and I immediately told the social worker to start the paperwork because he was going to stay with us,” Anita says.
When Anita brought the tiny baby home to Fritz, her husband immediately named him Theuns. They now affectionately call him Theunsie.
He's named after Anita’s late brother-in-law who passed away two years ago on 4 February, the same date they received the newborn.
Social workers had thought Anita the best person to look after Theunsie because she's a registered nurse and would be able to help the baby with health issues caused by his parents' drug addiction.
Theunsie weighed just 1,8kg when he came home, says Anita, who suspects that his biological mother hadn’t breastfed him at all before he was found because he didn’t know how to suckle.
Theunsie was three months old when he suffered a collapsed right lung and suffered withdrawal symptoms from the heroin his mother had taken while she was pregnant with him.
“He was in and out of hospital. He even stopped breathing on three different occasions,” foster mom says.
Doctors discovered a tumour above his airway which had shrunk the opening to just 1mm, causing his breathing difficulties. Baby Theunsie had to undergo surgery to remove part of his vocal cord, and he went through withdrawal again because of the anaesthetic that was administered during the op.
During his bouts of withdrawal, "he shivers, his eyes roll back, and he pulls back", Anita says.
He spent 22 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, of which he was on a ventilator for five days to help him breathe.
“The doctors told us that he has a very fast drug metabolism, which means that something that was supposed to keep him anaesthetised for 30 minutes will only keep him out for 10 minutes. We cannot give him just anything for a fever because it doesn’t work – we have to use suppositories.”
Theunsie is doing well now, and he goes for monthly check-ups, Anita says.
He's on medication to shrink the tumour. If the tumour is still there when he's 18 months old, doctors will surgically remove it.
Baby Theunsie celebrated his first Christmas with his foster family, and he loved every moment of opening his gifts and playing in a big Christmas bag.
“He's the most lovable amazing baby.”
But he's been slow to meet his developmental milestones, Anita says. He's nearly a year old but has only recently started to crawl. He can, however sit upright and eat on his own and he has a few favourite words, including "mama," baba" and "uit" (out), which he's picked up from Fritz when he orders the family dogs out of the house.
Anita and Fritz are now the little boy's legal guardians until he turns 18, and the court has ruled that his biological parents aren't allowed to have any contact with Theunsie or his foster family.
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The couple have one biological child who's 30 years old. Anita says they'd always wanted more children, but cancer forced her to have hysterectomy when she was 21 years old.
Theunsie turns one on 31 January and the family is planning a small party for him.
On 3 February, the law firm where Anita’s sister Carina Pretorius works will also host a birthday party for Theunsie and 12 children coming to celebrate with him.
The firm will also be raising funds to assist with his medical expenses.
“He's my child, and if they had to take him away from us, I would die. I cannot see my life without him. Our whole life is about our children.”