The story of Leah Demas

Written by Leah’s mother Melanie Demas:

Leah was diagnosed as asthmatic on 10/03/95 and since then she has been treated for asthma on a regular basis. In May 1996 she developed a very tight chest and high fever which not the nebulizer nor the family doctor could help with. She was then sent  for a chest X-ray on Saturday 1 May 1996 at Jan S. Marais.

It was discovered that she had Bronchial Pneumonia and she was transferred to Louis Leipoldt Paediatric Unit. Her fever eventually broke on the Sunday night. On Monday morning the Ward Sister on duty remarked that Leah’s colour was not normal. She asked if I would mind if she checked Leah’s blood.

Her Paediatrician called me and said that he suggested that I take Leah to Tygerberg for a Bone Marrow Biopsy. As far as I was concerned, that doctor sentenced my daughter to death in three words.

The first was “Tygerberg”, because as far as this Medical Aid brat was concerned, Tygerberg Children’s Hospital was not even to be considered. It took Dr Liebenberg all he had to convince me on the merits of Tygerberg Hospital and even the credentials of Dr Wessels. The other two words was “Bone Marrow”. To me that meant CANCER, and certain death to Leah.

So off we went armed with a letter of referral to Dr Wessels, a child still connected to a drip and oxygen mask. When we got to Tygerberg the only things I saw were the dark gloomy looking passages and equally gloomy looking wards.

We were then introduced to Dr Wessels and his first words to me were: “I believe that you don’t like Tygerberg Children’s Hospital”. And I made it very clear that as soon as I had the results of the Bone Marrow Leah would be out of there. Then this unorthodox man said: “Put us to the test for two weeks and if after that time you still feel the same, I will have you transferred to a Private Hospital.”

Tuesday 7 May 1996 is a date that I will never forget for as long as I live. That day Leah was scheduled for her Bone Marrow Biopsy. The hours seemed like centuries while I sat waiting for Leah to come out of the Treatment room.

I was told that Leah had Leukemia. At that moment the bottom fell out of my world.

For the next few days I lived in a daze. The only thing that was realistic to me was the fact that my baby was going to die. I did not eat, couldn’t sleep, and couldn’t think of anything but that. And beware the person who even suggested that I sleep. I was convinced that the minute I went to sleep, Leah was going to die.

On Friday I went to work for the first time. The Tea Lady at work called me to the kitchen and just started praying. It was then that I started realizing that come hell or high water, this was the last day Leah, or anybody else for that matter, would see me without makeup or with red puffy eyes.

I went back to the hospital after work that afternoon and for the first time I saw the bright paintings on the walls. It was as if on that fateful Friday I regained my sight.

After that everything seemed more bearable. Life, as far as I could see, was there to be lived to the fullest, no matter how little time one had to enjoy it. And enjoy it, we would.

At that time I was told that Leah had seven months of intense treatment ahead, it felt like a lifetime. But today, six years later, it feels like just yesterday we were sent to that wonderful hospital.

And today I would not think of sending Leah to another hospital that I could trust with my child.