wonder woman : Marcelle Van Vuuren

Can I just preface this post and say that Marcelle blew my mind –she is so much fun and I cannot believe how positive she is after everything she has gone through in the past 3 months. I stepped waaaaay out of my comfort zone when I went to the hospital to meet her but it was so incredibly worth it.

I heard about Marcelle through my baie gooie vriendin (very good friend), Nicolette, who is teaching me how to gooi die taal (speak Afrikaans properly). She invited me to go with her when she went to go visit Marcelle in hospital. Now I have had my fair share of operations (eight to be exact) and so going to a hospital is really not high on my list of priorities but off I went, not knowing what to expect.

Marcelle was in a horrific car accident on 20 December 2014. Her friend, Carla died instantly from a broken neck and Marcelle sustained terrible injuries. The seatbelt ripped through her stomach (hip to hip), taking with it about 15cm of her small intestine and severing her femoral artery. She should have bled out in minutes but the most miraculous thing happened – her artery folded, almost like you do to a hosepipe to stop the water. This is absolutely what saved her life. Marcelle gave Ruan, a witness her mother’s cellphone number – how’s that for adrenaline?! She was rushed to a nearby hospital in Matoks to stabilize her. Then 3 hours later taken to Mediclinic in Pietersburg, then transferred to Meulmed Mediclinic in Pretoria the next day as she needed specialist care.

Her left leg was badly damaged – her knee was completely concave and smashed and her lower leg was already blue as it had been without oxygen for a significant amount of time. Before she went into surgery her dad had to do something that I’m sure no father would want to do: he had to sign permission for the surgeons to amputate her leg should they need to. Their main concern going into surgery was to stop the bleeding at the femoral artery as this would save her life. They operated from 4pm until 11pm and had to amputate within the last 10min. The next day they discovered blood clotting in Marcelle’s right thigh and so back into surgery she went. They removed everything and leg was saved, but then later that afternoon discovered clotting in her lower leg. This time her mom had to sign permission to amputate should they need to – and they did. Both of Marcelle’s legs were amputated at the age of 23. When she was cognitive a few weeks later she was told about the amputations, the first thing she asked was who signed permission and with tears in their eyes, both her parents said that they did. And you know what Marcelle said? “Dankie mamma” – thank you mom. But that’s Marcelle – completely upbeat and on the lookout for the silver lining. Although she says that she was never like that.

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Before her accident she admits that she didn’t really care for much besides herself, she wasn’t too worried about people she didn’t know and the issues that they faced. But now it’s completely different. She is passionate about helping people – particularly when it comes to blood donation. When she was in ICU she needed a lot of blood. After having 8 operations in total, she needed blood again in rehab – another 2 pints. But there wasn’t any available – no blood! Her family said they would donate for her but unfortunately the system doesn’t let family donate blood like they can donate an organ. And so they waited until she received blood a day or two later. This was a turning point for Marcelle: she is now determinded to motivate people to donate blood regularly and to help squash any misconceptions and fallacies associated with blood donation.

As her legs healed, her wounds on her stomach started to fester. It festered so badly that there was a hole large enough for her mom to fit her fist in. They had to treat this with extremely aggressive antibiotics. Again, she came out through. She also had two highly aggressive viruses and had to get antibiotics from the medical institution.

Her legs and stomach were not the only major injuries that she sustained. Her L4 and L5 vertebra shifted right out of her spine, almost like she broke her back. Doctors said that she would never walk again but she is already standing on her stumps for short periods of time and has full mobility, showing everyone how powerful positive thinking and actions are. Doctors wired her spine back together and literally laid concrete to secure the vertebra back together.

Marcelle is a trained hair stylist and so I asked her for her top hair product: “Redken, Redken, Redken!” she said, here are her top 3:

1. All Soft (shampoo and conditioner)

2. Extreme (shampoo and conditioner)

3. Argon 6 Oil

I then asked her for her 3 hair no-no’s

1. Don’t wash your hair every single day.

2. Towel dry your hair before you use your conditioner – she says you WILL see a difference, I’m definitely going to try this.

3. Use good quality hair ties that won’t damage your hair.

As you can imagine, Marcelle is obsessed with her hair and when they had to shave it off (it had become very matted and dreadlock-ey from her lying down for such an extended period of time) she was furious – she was more upset about losing her hair than she was losing her legs her mom says!

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As we continued to chat (Marcelle is full of chirps and has the most amazing sense of humour) we spoke about what small things mean more to her now. First thing out of her mouth – sitting on the toilet! She said she did this for the first time the other day and it was one of the best moments of her life. How insane is that? She also said turning onto her stomach is so much harder now and she really misses the ease of that, especially while she sleeps.

Tzaneen, the town that she comes from has rallied around Marcelle and her family in the most incredible way. They have even set up a trust fund for her so that when she moves back home in about 7 weeks time, she will have funds to renovate her house so that it is wheelchair friendly. Doorways will need to be widened and ramps put in to make everything more accessible for her. They have had fun runs and coffee days and concerts, all in the name of Marcelle and helping her.

I know this is incredibly cliché to say but meeting Marcelle was such an eye opening experience for me. I think that every now and then we need a kick in the rear so that we begin to appreciate everything that we have and are able to do. But what really struck me is how incredibly silly I am for not donating blood. If I can help to save someone’s life by just sitting in a chair for a few minutes every now and then, why wouldn’t I? It’s such a selfless act that will literally change someones life.

You can follow Marcelle on Facebook: Prayers for Marcelle van Vuuren

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