Pretoria parents speak of their grief after son’s sudden paralysis

It started with a scratchy throat.

Then his legs suddenly went numb. Now, two weeks later, a matric pupil at Hoërskool Tuine in Pretoria is completely paralysed and on a ventilator – and doctors still don’t know what’s causing it.

It’s the worst kind of hell, one that only a parent can understand, Giani Hendricks (47) told YOU on Wednesday.

He says to see his son, Giovanni, lying in the high-care unit of the Kalafong Hospital, west of Pretoria, and being unable to do anything to help him, is breaking his heart.

Giovanni’s story has touched many across the world and Giani and his wife, Elize (39), say they’re receiving hundreds of messages of encouragement each day from far and wide.

On 25 February Giovanni complained to his mom of a scratchy throat when he got home from school.

About eight years ago he’d suffered from Guillain-Barré syndrome and he was convinced the condition, which attacks the nervous system, was back.

“I was still at work but Elize tells me he became very emotional because he suddenly couldn’t swallow anymore. He was scared the condition was back. His mother tried comforting him and told him to lie down for a bit,” Giani recalls.

“She fetched the Bible and anointing oil and prayed for him. But later that evening, when I got home, his condition had deteriorated.”

When Giovanni was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré seven years ago, he’d spent 11 days in hospital but he made a full recovery.

This time, the same symptoms occurred. Later that evening he was unable to speak or swallow.

The next morning, 26 February, Giovanni was completely paralysed – he could only blink.

“We called the ambulance, which took him to the Pretoria West Hospital. The specialist asked for him to be transferred to Kalafong but because we had to wait so long for the ambulance, they put Giovanni on a ventilator in the emergency room,” Giani says.

“It’s impossible to describe what’s going through your mind . . . You’re scared – no, terrified. You don’t want to see your child like that.”

Later that day Giovanni was transferred to Kalafong Hospital, where he’s still in the high-care unit.

In the two weeks since he was admitted to hospital, his eyelids also became paralysed, but he’s since recovered the use of them. He’s still on a ventilator and has to be fed through a feeding tube.

Giani says the hardest thing is that doctors still don’t know exactly what’s wrong with his son. The possibility that it’s Guillain-Barré again hasn’t been excluded, but more tests are needed for a conclusive diagnosis.

“I only have praise for the doctors and hospital personnel – they’re really caring for Giovanni. But I can’t lie, it’s a tough time. We get messages from all over the country from people who are saying, ‘Have you tested for this?’ Or, ‘Consider these options.’

“Each time you get excited all over again; you’re hoping it’s the answer. But doctors assure us their tests are comprehensive – and that there just aren’t any answers yet.”

For now doctors are waiting to see how Giovanni responds to new medication. They also plan to send more blood samples to the lab for analyses.

Giani says he and Elize and their younger son, Elandré (13), are depending on their faith to carry them through one of the most trying times in their lives.

“Yes, it’s incredibly frustrating to know your child is gravely ill and as a parent you’re completely helpless. But the Lord watches over my child. We pray and we hope – and believe there’ll be deliverance.”