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Janu’s Story | Maritsa Grewe

It was Friday, 3rd of June, 2022.

Just before 6am I received a call from Marlize to say that our son, Janu, had been put on a ventilator and that I should go to the hospital now. I got our eldest (who would turn 3 in January 2023) ready for school, and as we were driving, I told Sion that Janu was really sick, and we now needed to pray for him. After the prayer, Sion said ‘Amen’ in a loud voice. Janu had just turned 1 at that time and had been in hospital for 9 days already.  We had originally taken him to the pediatrician for what we thought was a normal cold. He was admitted to hospital on the 25th of May and was diagnosed with the RS virus. He had been struggling to keep his oxygen saturation levels above 90%, and a decision was made to put him on high-flow oxygen in the ICU. Following further tests, it was discovered that he also had the Adeno virus.

While dropping Sion, my heart was heavy. I received a message from my friend Olivia. It was a picture of the sunrise, and she said how beautiful it was and that she wanted to share it with me.  The only reply I could manage consisted of the words, “Please pray for Janu, he was put on a ventilator”.  It was at that moment that an army of prayer warriors was activated to start praying for Janu. My trip from Brackenfell to Stellenbosch was a silent one: no radio, I was calm, yet anxious to get to the hospital.

On arriving at the hospital, I went straight to the ICU. As I entered, I saw the doctor kneeling next to Marlize, who sat on a chair outside the room, comforting her. I made my way to Janu’s room and all I can remember is seeing the tube over his mouth. The doctor explained to Marlize and I that they had had to put Janu on a ventilator, his words were: “He is very sick and he is getting tired of fighting”. The words “he is getting tired of fighting” reverberated in my head. -This did not sound good. I was informed later that Janu was restless in the early morning hours of the 3rd of June and at about 05h30 he just gave one cough and suddenly started screaming. The more he screamed the more his heartrate increased, and his saturation levels dropped. His heart rate reached just over 200 bpm at one point. Within minutes the doctor had arrived at the hospital and the decision was made to help Janu breathe.

My son, how could this be? Just the night before, I had made a video of him sitting upright, playing with one of his toys. How could this be possible? Returning to his room again, there was a deadly silence with now two doctors and other medical staff monitoring the machines.  Unable to take another step into the room, I broke down, screaming and crying inwardly – I did not want to disturb the medical staff and other patients in the ward. After containing my emotions, I went back into his room, laid my hands on his chest and started to pray to God asking Him to take His own breath and breathe it into Janu’s lungs. I asked the Lord to be with the doctors so that they make the correct decisions in this time. I thanked God for the fact that I knew He was there and that all His angels were surrounding Janu in that moment. I recall the doctor moving towards the corner of Janu’s room while I was praying, affording us a moment to talk to God. Then, I knelt down and held Janu’s arms whilst doctors and other medical staff started to prep him for transfer to Netcare Christiaan Barnard in town. They have a Pediatric ICU (PICU) with a team of Pediatric Pulmonologists. There was a lot of activity going on in the room but while kneeling, holding Janu’s hand, I was calm.

Somewhere during the morning, I made contact with two of my close friends, Pastor Philippa and worship leader, Simone. The messages from our church family, friends, direct family and all the other prayer warriors streamed in. With hindsight, I know that these prayers, not only for Janu, but also for us as parents, kept us calm. Philippa and Simone were already on their way to Christiaan Barnard hospital. The nurse informed us that a decision was made not to go by ambulance, but rather to airlift him as they couldn’t afford to be caught in traffic on the way to town. In order to prepare him, he first had to be sedated in order to switch him from the hospital ventilator to a portable one. However, in Janu’s state, his body refused to be sedated. It took the medics about 2 hours just to get him sufficiently sedated to a point where the transfer process could begin. It was essential to sedate Janu for the flight as it can be very noisy in the air, and it was important to keep him as calm as possible. Janu, who was born prematurely, was still very small at that stage and the earmuffs did not fit him. The doctors had to tape a pillow around the back of his head and over his ears in an attempt to reduce the sound of the helicopter. All the time the medics were trying to sedate him, tears were rolling silently from his eyes. He was terrified, not knowing what was happening to him. I am forever grateful to the Netcare 911 helicopter doctors and medical team that looked after Janu with so much passion and care. As we walked out with Janu to the waiting ambulance, I grabbed the arm of one of the air medics and pleaded with them to take special care of Janu, as we could not be with him for the flight.

Driving from Stellenbosch to town via the N2, we started to pray, listening and singing along to the song “In Jesus’ Name (God of possible)”

I speak the name of Jesus over you
In your hurting, in your sorrow
I will ask my God to move
I speak the name ’cause it’s all that I can do
In desperation, I’ll seek Heaven
And pray this for you

I pray for your healing
That circumstances would change
I pray that the fear inside would flee in Jesus’ Name
I pray that a breakthrough would happen today
I pray miracles over your life in Jesus’ Name, in Jesus’ Name

We also sang along to the song “Same God”

O God, my God, I need You
O God, my God, I need You now
How I need You now
O Rock, O Rock of Ages
I’m standing on Your faithfulness
On Your faithfulness

The new Stellenbosch Medi-Clinic, where Janu was a patient, did not yet have a heli-pad, so he was first taken by ambulance to the helicopter pad at the old Stellenbosch Medi-Clinic to be airlifted. We were looking up in the air the whole time to see if we could see the helicopter while we were driving. It was a surreal moment when we entered town and saw the helicopter descending to land at the same time. Knowing that your son is in that helicopter, and you don’t know what is happening was not a good feeling at all. Never having been at Christiaan Barnard before we did not know where to park and where to go, but seeing my brother, Morné, pastor Philippa and Simone was so comforting. I burst into tears, the feeling of safety and comfort telling me that everything was going to be OK.

Making our way to the Emergency reception, we were informed that Janu had already been taken to the PICU.  When we got there, we were told to go to the waiting room next to the PICU, as the doctors were still busy stabilising Janu. We started praying to God and lifting up His Name, thanking Him for Janu’s life and the testimony He is busy writing. We prayed intensely and I knew God would heal Janu. We prayed for a long time to the only One who I knew could save Janu’s life. It was in that time that we, as parents, found complete peace in our hearts.

At the time we did not realise it, but we were only separated by one wall, as Janu’s room was in fact next to the waiting room. We had to wait 3 hours to see Janu, and during that time, pastor Philippa and Simone left.  The wait was very long, and I went in many times to ask if we could please just see him. During that time, our reverend, Ds Anton, also came to support us. He spoke to us and explained the concept of how prayers are sent to God’s throne, and that we could rest in the knowledge that God hears our cries.

It was not long after Ds Anton left that I went out again to ask if we could see our son.  A doctor met me in the corridor and said, “You must be Janu’s mom?” She came with us to the waiting room, asking us to sit down. She comforted Marlize by rubbing her shoulder and she said: “Janu is sick, he is very, very sick”. I recall her saying the word “very” twice.  She explained that they had had to paralyse him as he kept waking up from under the sedation. Even in the helicopter he had kept waking up. I thought, yes that’s my boy, the fighter! She explained that we would have to prepare ourselves for the worst, and that he was critical but stable for the moment. The doctor asked if we had any questions, but I was speechless. I thought, yeah, we just prayed that Janu will recover, and that this will become his testimony, and that God will use Janu for His ministry, so who are you to tell me there is a possibility that our son won’t make it? I was angry. I don’t know why, but the doctor walked out and returned a few minutes later to ask how we were feeling now. The only words I could get out were: “Doctor, we don’t know you and you don’t know us, but we know God and He WILL heal Janu”. I felt bad for being so abrupt, but that is how I felt in the moment.

At last, we were able to see Janu. He lay there peacefully asleep, with all these machines connected to him and what seemed to be hundreds of tubes and lines and needles. His hands and feet were secured to make sure he didn’t pull anything out if he happened to wake up under the sedation again. We both kissed him on his forehead and told him how proud we were of him and that he would be fine, Jesus himself was there and was holding him in His arms. He must just continue to fight.  

A few minutes later, we were asked not to touch him or to get too close, as the medical team did not want him to wake up from the sedation. Well, Janu decided differently as, despite being paralysed and tied down, he still tried to remove the ventilator from his mouth. It was actually so comforting to see how he was fighting. I left Marlize with Janu that night at about 19h00, as I had to fetch Sion from family members who had picked him up from the crèche that afternoon.  I was in constant contact with Marlize, and she told me that the doctor was still there, not wanting to leave Janu’s side. Remember that this was after hours for them; the doctor sacrificed her family time to stay after hours to be with our son. I will be forever grateful to her as well.

That evening at 20h00, the assistance of a well-known cardiothoracic surgeon was called upon to assess whether they should do the ECMO procedure on Janu[1]. Marlize explained to me that, according to the doctors, this was their last attempt to keep Janu alive as, even with the ventilator, his condition was not changing. There were many risks to this procedure, but they advised us that this was our only option left. The doctor asked Marlize if she was on her own, or if perhaps there was someone that could be with her at the hospital. She explained that I had had to go home to look after our other son, but that my brother was on his way to support her through the procedure of preparing Janu for theatre. My brother, always making light of any situation, described the way the doctor explained to her team what level each of the machines must be turned to as if she were conducting an orchestra. By now they also had nitric oxide connected to Janu.

As they were about to push Janu to theatre, the miracle happened! Janu’s oxygen levels began to rise. All the doctors and the rest of the medical team stood in awe of what was happening in front of their eyes. With the team monitoring every machine, Janu’s oxygen saturation levels reached at 90% and stayed there.  As ECMO is such a dangerous procedure, the doctor decided to wait and monitor Janu’s stats for the next 30 minutes. While the surgeon and her team went for a cup of tea, Janu continued to keep his oxygen levels at 90%. The whole team was put on standby; should Janu’s condition change at all during the night, they would do the procedure. The theatre was set up and ready for them. The team left at 22h30 that evening. That night I did not sleep, as Sion also fell ill and was struggling with what we believed was the same virus that Janu had, but Sion’s body was stronger.

The next morning just after 5am, Marlize sent me a picture of the dawn that she took from the window across from Janu’s room. The hospital’s windows overlooked Cape Town harbour. I said, “This is the day the Lord has made; we WILL rejoice and be glad in it”.  The anesthetist who had connected the nitric oxide machine the previous night walked in and greeted us, then she examined all of the monitors and the stats. She was amazed at how much better his Oxygen Index (OI) looked. Oxygen Index levels shows the ability of the lungs to transfer oxygen from the air we breathe into our blood. Doctors use it to determine the breathing capacity of a patient. The higher the index, the sicker the lungs. The day before it was on 25 and now it had decreased to 12. This being another big miracle that happened right in front of our eyes. The doctor said, “I don’t know what you are doing, but please keep on doing it”.  We could testify that it was only by prayer and God’s grace that this was happening.

At about 12h00, as we sat by his bedside, (remember that we could not touch him, in case we woke him from his sedation) he opened his eyes and turned his head, searching for us. We jumped up and said, ‘Hey love, we’re just here, you can sleep, we won’t go anywhere.’ In his paralysed state we noticed a smile and he closed his eyes again. We knew then that he was going to be fine. From the very first moment we had been by his bedside, we had been softly playing instrumental worship music in the room. The atmosphere in his room was filled with God’s presence, which was so tangible for all who entered that they made comments about the peaceful atmosphere. We just smiled and knew it was God. We were not always sure about the beliefs of the medical staff and doctors looking after him, but we knew they were touched. We could see it and some of them were brave enough to admit it.

6 Days after being admitted to Christiaan Barnard Hospital, they completely removed the Nitric Oxide and of the 12 lines connected to him with different medicines and drips, only 3 were left. He was slowly taken out of his paralysed state. Exactly one week to the hour after his vitals were recorded on file at Christiaan Barnard for the first time, the ventilator was removed completely. As he woke up, Janu never stopped smiling at us. That afternoon, I wrote a song called ‘Grace Upon Grace Upon Grace’ and would like to share with you some lines in the song:

Grace upon grace upon grace upon grace you have shown us 

Lord, You made us see there is power in Your Name 

We have felt how Your merciful angels surround us 

When Your grace upon grace upon grace has covered us 

We have heard You’re the Miracle Worker, but now we have seen it 

They said You’re the Healing God, but now we believe it 

We’ve heard You’re the Promise Keeper, thank you Lord Jesus 

For Your grace upon grace upon grace has covered us.

We were at his bedside for the next 11 days while he slowly recovered, and 28 days after Janu was first admitted to Stellenbosch Medi-Clinic, we could finally go home. We were so fortunate to have met so many passionate doctors who looked after Janu as if he was their own child. We want to thank the doctors from Stellenbosch Medi-Clinic as well as the nurses from the Paediatrics ward and the ICU, the medical team on the Netcare 911 medical helicopter, Christiaan Barnard’s nurses from PICU and Paeds and all the Specialists who looked after Janu. You are angels walking on earth!

God’s undeserved mercy has been shown to us and the goodness He has shown has restored our faith.

[1] ECMO= extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). Blood is pumped outside of the body to a heart-lung machine that removes carbon dioxide and sends oxygen-filled blood back to tissues in the body.

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