'South Africa hospital saved my life': Somali girl

04 September 2014 - 12:46 By Aarti J Narsee
File photo.
File photo.
Image: AFP Relaxnews ©Steve Cukrov/shutterstock.com

The bubbly 12-year-old speaking animatedly from her hospital bed barely resembles the girl who made headlines in July when her brother went to court to save her life.

The young girl’s plight was revealed after her 26-year-old brother went to the Pretoria High Court to get his sister admitted to Pretoria’s Steve Biko Academic Hospital for a life-saving heart operation.

He claimed that the hospital had refused to admit her unless they coughed up a R250 000 deposit. The hospital has denied this and the child was admitted on July 18 after the Department of Health and Lawyers for Human Rights, which was helping the girl, settled in court that day.

After initially being number 47 on the list for child heart surgeries, she finally received open heart surgery to insert a heart valve a month ago.

“I thought I was going to pass away,” the girl says with the help of a translator,

At the time of the court battle, her heart beat so loudly it could be heard across the room and its rapid beating was visible through her thin chest.

Her brother had said: "She is now in constant pain and lies in her bed moaning and clutching her stomach and chest." He was uncertain if she would live another week.

Since her arrival in South Africa on July 4, following a grueling 10-day journey from war-torn Mogadishu, the child has been in hospital every day bar one.

The girl, who has had a heart defect since birth, said she began feeling unwell towards the end of the journey while in Mozambique. She said her heart started “beating fast" and she felt tired when she walked. Her brother believes the strain of the long trip worsened her heart defect.

A day after arriving at her brother’s Pretoria home, she collapsed and was rushed to Pretoria's Kalafong Hospital in an ambulance. Because of the seriousness of her condition, she needed to be admitted to the larger Steve Biko Hospital.

But, because they had not had an opportunity to apply for refugee status or an asylum-seeker permit, the hospital allegedly turned her away unless they paid R250 000.

After her two-month hospital stay, the girl is slowly recovering, but doctors are not yet ready to discharge her due to her high blood pressure.

“I am feeling better; I am not feeling pain,” the girl said, while flanked by pink and white teddy bears.

As traumatic as her time in South Africa has been, the girl is optimistic, despite leaving her unemployed, widowed mother in Somalia.

"I feel it’s a better life, a healthier life and I feel happy," she said.

“If I go home I am scared that there will be fighting and maybe I will get sick again.”

The former grade 3 pupil is looking forward to going to school once she is discharged.

In the meantime, like others her age, she enjoys tucking into Kentucky Fried Chicken and watching cartoons.

Her brother and family friends say they await her daily phone to remind them to bring food when visit her

She also socialises in the bright paediatric ward she shares with around 30 other girls and boys.