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Parents relieved after holiday horror

GEMS  saves the day when child falls ill after ingesting mother's prescription medicine

Wednesday 7 February 2018,

A seaside holiday turned into a nightmare when a family from Mpumalanga had an unexpected healthcare emergency after their young son ingested some of his mother's prescription medicine.

"My heart froze, I was beside myself with worry for my little boy," says Government Employees Medical Scheme (GEMS) member Precious Msibi, recalling her emotions when she realised that her young son, Simelokuhle Shongwe, was unresponsive after drinking some of her medicine.

Earlier that day, the family were enjoying their summer holiday in Durban and were preparing to go to the beach when their elder daughter informed them that her baby brother had ingested some of their mother's prescription medicine.

"I had heard previously that drinking milk can neutralise harmful substances, and so we gave Simelokuhle some milk to drink. He also tried to drink some soapy water while I was bathing the children, and I told him to stop, as I believed it was nothing more than mischievous childhood antics.

"Simelokuhle seemed to be his usual self and, since he appeared to be absolutely fine, we continued with our plans for the day and set off for a day at the beach," Precious remembers.

Her son seemed to be a bit sleepy, but the parents put this down to all the fresh air and excitement of their holiday, and settled him comfortably into his pram. Little did they realise that their idyllic beach vacation was about to turn into a parent's nightmare.

"Later in the day, my partner and I remarked how soundly the child was sleeping and noticed that he had been asleep for an unusually long time. We met a woman at the beach, and she commented that our son had possibly been asleep for far too long.

"I went to check on him and I noticed that his breathing sounded strange. That's when I realised something was wrong with my child and we became very frightened. We rushed him to the nearest hospital, which happened to be King Edward Hospital, a government hospital situated at Sea Point in Durban," she recalls.

On arrival at the hospital, medical staff attended to the child and pumped his stomach, among other interventions to clear the medicine from his system.

"Later, we were told that his condition had become worse and we were beside ourselves with worry. Simelokuhle had to be put on advanced life support, but the hospital did not have the appropriate equipment available."

As the parents had been so focused on the crisis and the wellbeing of their child, it had not occurred to them to inform the hospital staff that they were members of GEMS.

"At that point the hospital immediately started making enquiries to private hospitals around Durban, trying to find a bed in an emergency intensive care unit for him. They warned us, however, that if our medical scheme declined authorisation we would need to pay about R70 000 ourselves.

"We were worried about this potential expense, but of course we were far more concerned about the wellbeing of our beloved son. We therefore immediately agreed and signed the necessary consent documents," Precious says.

The little boy was transported to Netcare St Augustine's Hospital, where a paediatric intensive care unit with the required facilities for his care was available. The parents were informed that authorisation had been granted from GEMS and that no upfront fees were required from the family.

Around 01h00 on New Year's Day, while most people were still celebrating the New Year, Smelokuhle was declared stable and his parents were immensely relieved. The doctors advised the parents to go home and get some much-needed rest.

"When we returned to the hospital the following day, our little boy had woken up and we were overjoyed to hear that he was doing well. They were good at that hospital and cared so well for Simelokuhle, they saved the life of my child. He was discharged from hospital on 4 January, and we were delighted to be able to take our healthy little boy home."

Precious was expecting to receive some unpaid bills from the hospital however, with all the paperwork and motivations having been correctly submitted, the hospital claim was settled in full, save for a R60 co-payment for pathology tests.

"I am so grateful to GEMS for supporting our family in our time of crisis. When you are faced with a healthcare emergency, especially if one of your children is in danger, the last thing you need is to be worrying about whether your medical scheme will cover the treatment," notes Precious.

"I hope that sharing this story will help other people to realise the importance of using their medical scheme benefits responsibly, especially during the course of the year, because anything can happen in the last month of the year," she adds.

Dr Vuyo Gqola, Chief Healthcare Officer of GEMS, says the Scheme was most relieved to hear that Smelokuhle has made a full recovery. "This member's story fortunately had a happy ending, however it is a good reminder to all of us about the dangers of leaving medicine where children may be able to get hold of it," she observes.

"Children are naturally curious, and may mistake medicine for sweets. It can be very dangerous to take medicine that is not specifically prescribed for you, particularly if the person taking the medicine is a child. This is why most medicines carry a warning to ‘keep out of reach of children'.

"When we are on holiday and we are out of our familiar surroundings, this may easily slip one's mind. GEMS would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone of the importance of keeping medicine out of reach of children," Dr Gqola concluded.


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