A TIMEBOMB IN MY TUMMY
ANNE’S STORY as told to Luella
On April 24th, 1970, my son, Andrew, was born. What should have been a mother’s most joyous occasion turned into a very long nightmare.
During my stay in the maternity hospital, and unbeknown to me, I was given more than an immunisation during a measles scare. I was the unwitting recipient of a ticking time bomb via a “dirty” needle. But this was a secret invader. No one knew it was there!
Three months after Andrew’s birth I came down with a severe case of what was diagnosed as “hepatitis”. After my recovery I was never quite well, nothing specific, but at the same time neither really sick nor really well. I ignored it and carried on with my hectic and eventful life as a wife and mother in the ever-changing political upheaval of Zimbabwe.
About twelve years after I contracted the “bomb” and still ignorant of its evil presence in my liver, my legs began to swell. By this time we had moved to Maseru in Lesotho where, after a famine of luxuries in Zimbabwe, we bought nuts. With great delight I feasted on almonds and paid the price – a severe bout of vomiting which lasted the whole night. My ailing liver could not cope with the unexpected bounty.
After a tough eighteen months in Maseru, we thankfully relocated to Alice, a small town in the then black homeland, the Ciskei. My husband worked for a Christian organization called ACAT (Africa Co-operation Action Trust) and I helped him as secretary and “girl Friday.” Miracles were our way of life! God was always one step ahead, smoothing the way and providing for us in one nail-biting episode after another.
After 6 years in ACAT, we moved to Stutterheim where we lived for 7 years. These were years of more severe testing than we had ever experienced in our Christian walk. Betrayal by a fellow believer in a business venture and my deteriorating health left us penniless and cast totally on the mercy and faithfulness of our God. I went into liver failure, gained 40lbs of fluid in my body almost overnight and spent 6 days in an East London hospital in a coma. The diagnosis – cirrhosis of the liver, but from what? The time bomb was still ticking and coming perilously close to the end of the fuse! I was bedridden for 5 months. One day, alone at home, I received the shocking news from the doctor over the phone that without a liver transplant I would die. I cried my heart out at the news. O God, what now?
God heard my desperate cry and comforted me with the words of Psalm 118:17, “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.” My fear gave way to a peaceful trust which never left me through the many months of my trial.
There were obstacles to negotiate over the next few months, medical aid approval, someone to take care of my husband and daughter (by this time my son was in college), accommodation for my family in Cape Town where I was to have the transplant and, by no means the least, a donor type B liver small enough to fit me! I was flown to Groote Schuur Hospital in November 1990 where they realised that my physical condition was too bad for an immediate transplant.
I asked the Lord for a liver for Christmas! On 17th December, 1990, after an eleven-hour operation, my prayer was granted. In God’s mercy, although I failed all the conditions for a transplant and had only three days left to live, I received the liver of a 20-year old Basuto lad who had died in Victoria Hospital, Wynberg after a car accident.
The operation itself was not without its miracles. At the critical moment when the blood vessels of the donor liver were being attached, I began to bleed. After 48 units of blood, when the surgeons were on the point of pulling the sheet over me, the bleeding stopped and they were able to attach the new liver successfully. They could not explain why they had persevered, but I could. It was God, fulfilling His promise to me.
After my transplant, my shrivelled up, hard and non-functional liver was sent to London where the “bomb” was finally identified – hepatitis B! The astute physician, Dr Wendy Spearman, head of the Liver Transplant Unit at Groote Schuur, traced the whole saga back to the measles vaccine I had received after Andrew’s birth.
My recovery was slow and painful, a month in the hospital and then blood tests twice a week and three-times-a-day temperature checks after my discharge. After three months in Cape Town I was finally on my way home. I still had a long battle to face; the necessary precautionary semi isolation, the indignity of having to wear a mask in the company of people other than my immediate family, the migraines and inevitable depression that followed my long battle with death, but God was there.
And now...? After my transplant I was assured of at least another 5 years of life and yet, here I am, almost twenty years later, still living in the FOG (favour of God)! A new liver was never the guarantee of a trouble-free life. The virus is still alive in my adopted liver but kept at bay by anti-retroviral drugs which bring with them their own set of problems, as have the anti-rejection drugs which are as necessary as my daily food. Cortisone has destroyed my bones, leaving behind a trail of spontaneous fractures and all the pain associated with broken bones. My kidneys always teeter on the edge of malfunction with the daily load of drugs they have to process. I am monitored constantly for the body functions that tell me I am still alive!
So many amazing evidences of God’s love and mercy surface as I reflect on my eventful life – times without number when God was one step ahead, smoothing the bumpy path for me, family members who loved, supported and cared for me when I was helpless and bedridden, friends who “happened” to be in the right place at the right time when I needed help, a shoulder to cry on, a word from God’s Word to encourage me or someone to transport the children, do the cooking, washing and ironing or just to “be there”. Through it all I have discovered that God's love and faithfulness are amazing.
What a wonderful and amazing life story of one, held and protected by God against such enormous odds. Beautifully told and mind-blowing. I love 'living in the FOG (Favour of God) - must remember that one!