Let me introduce you to a very special mom, a mom whose story of her brave little girl inspires me every single day. Andria van Niekerk has agreed to share Gia’s story with you as she tries to create awareness about GBS and help other families who may find themselves in similar situations.
Wife, mom, therapist. Foremost I am a wife to my best friend/husband of the past 2 and a half years. I am a mom to Gia Anne and Karter and have been a speech therapist and audiologist for the past 11 years.
Juggling motherhood and being a career woman is tough, but I am beyond passionate about my profession and even more so after Gia, that the pros far outway the cons.
I used to be able to very easily describe myself. I knew who I was and what I wanted out of life. After Gia, I am finding my way again. Karter has brought me so much joy and continues to do so, and daily he helps me learn my place in the world again.
Putting Gia’s story into words still remains the toughest part of my day, let that be on paper or verbally. First I struggled out of anger, which phased into pain but now I struggle because how does one describe and give justice to the story of a tiny baby who taught so many how to fight, how to truly show determination to live when the odds are stacked against you, so here I go….
Gia Anne entered the world on the 13th March 2017 at 10:40am weight 3.75kg and 55cm, the day before my birthday. She was just perfect! Ev and I were in awe of this little girl. The doctor was happy with both of us.
Two weeks later, my precious little girl was admitted into NICU isolation with severe infection. All I can remember about that day is doctors taking her out of my arms and putting tube after tube in her. By the time we were allowed to see her she was on a ventilator and lying in the incubator so still. She looked so innocent and helpless and my heart broke right there is the isolation room.
We were informed that her CRP (infection count) which is meant to be under 5, was over 300 and that she had a severe GBS infection. Test after test was done on her tiny body including a lumbar puncture and a couple days later, we received the worst call, Gia had streptococcal meningitis. The most deadly ruthless bacteria anyone could contract. We were informed that we needed to prepare ourselves for the worse.
After watching her lie in the incubator for over 2 weeks, and with me constantly looking for the answers “how”, “why”, “when”. Fighting with doctors. Waiting for daily CRP updates. Watching her monitors closely. Counting how many breaths she took on her own compared to the ventilator assisting her. Crying. Screaming. Ev looked at me with wide eyes while I shouted at a nurse who was just so negative about my baby’s future, and said “she is reacting to how you react. She is reacting to your moods, her stats change according to you”… and that is the moment the mamma in me took over the anger and pain.
I walked into her isolation room and I lectured my month old baby. I told her that we are fighters. That we don’t give up. That we are strong and brave and that no matter what the future holds, it’s her and me together facing the world and that SHE is my light! my heart! my world! my everything. And things started changing. My baby girl started to fight like no human being I have ever encountered. She started breathing on her own. Her CRP count started dropping. And we started to work on her sucking so that she could be bottle fed again.
I realised that as mothers, all our babies need is for us to believe in them. To have faith in them. For them to know that we will fight for with and with them. But mostly, that no matter what, we love them with all we are. There are zero conditions to the love we have for them.
After 35 days living in a hospital and sleeping on steel chairs as I refused to leave my baby, even though I was only allowed near her 3 times a day for 1 hour, she was discharged and came home. She wasn’t opening her eyes and she no longer cried, but my baby was alive and in my arms.
We took her to endless specialists – ophthalmologists, pediatricians, neurologists, occupational therapy, physiotherapy. My life was consumed by her and her needs and I didn’t care. I wanted everything to be “Gia”. It was all about giving her the BEST chance in life we could. As a qualified speech pathologist and audiologist, I knew what life for a child with severe brain damage could mean and how important early intervention was. I also knew that Gia was a fighter and she showed us daily was she was able to achieve.
Our trip to South Africa in June 2017 did not go well. Gia contracted a bad chest infection and was once again admitted to the NICU. The infection went to her brain again, but this time was stopped very quickly with the use of steroids. And so I spent another 8 days living in a hospital. Doctors were once again not hopeful. But I informed them that they have no idea who they are dealing with. That my little baby is a fighter. And once again, this little girl showed them. They were all shocked at her recovery. But 2 weeks later, she was once again in ICU with recurrent pneumonia. She spent a further 8 days in ICU. This time she was discharged with oxygen as her saturation levels were not stable, and without the 5% oxygen, she wasn’t able to breathe on her own. We were unable to fly back home to Dubai until she was off the oxygen, so once again, mamma had to have a stern talking to her baby. It took her a few days, but she weaned herself off and a week later we were able to leave.
Gia was doing well. She was now on epileptic medication, a variety of vitamins and opening her eyes more. She even laughed the one day – the sweetest sound I had ever heard. She was doing well. Lifting herself when on tummy time, sitting with pillow support. We were so proud of our little girl. We knew the road ahead would be tough, but we also knew that she was a fighter. And she didn’t give up easily.
On the 24th September 2017, we rushed her back to the hospital. She was coughing up coffee ground mucus and couldn’t even keep water down. Doctors couldn’t pinpoint what infection she had. And at 2am, we were called to inform us she had to be ventilated. We rushed back to the hospital immediately and I held my baby’s hand watching her. The doctors were unable to find veins for drips and were using a central line to assist her. They were pumping her with medication to keep her alive. Late in the afternoon on the 25th September 2017, 24 hours after we had rushed her to the hospital, she was holding super tight onto her daddy’s finger, she opened her eyes and looked into mine, and I just knew. I knew she was telling me she was tired and just couldn’t fight anymore. I looked at her and told her it was ok. That I wouldn’t ask her to fight for me anymore. That I loved her and I was so proud of her. That she gave me 6 and a half months of love and pure joy. That I wouldn’t be angry if she wanted to let go.
And let go she did. Even with the ventilator, all the medication and over an hour of CPR, Gia Anne grew her angel wings and went to heaven at 11pm that night.
Gia Anne left a huge legacy. Her story is own worldwide on social media and her fight is honored by many.
GBS stands for “Group B Streptococcus”. GBS is a type of bacterial infection found in pregnant woman which can be passed through natural delivery. It affects 1 in every 2000 babies. GBS is rare in pregnant women, however, if a baby is affected, their outcome can be severe. At around 37 weeks pregnant, a high swab will be taken by your doctor to test for GBS. If you are tested positive, the doctor will give antibiotics to you and possibly to the baby. I was tested negative with Gia, which leaves so many unanswered questions. Again with Karter, I was tested negative, however, our amazing OBGYN Dr. Jozsa decided on a birth plan early on which we stuck to and Karter and I both were given antibiotics as a precaution. There are great GBS associations that I would highly recommend to all mums to be and mums to read and spread the word so that as many people around the world can learn about this deadly infection. And for mums who opt for a natural birth, insist that your baby receive the antibiotic for GBS regardless if you have tested positive or not. The more women who insist on the antibiotic the more likely it will be part of newborn vaccines.
When asked what advice she has for families in similar situations and the importance of a support system, Andria had this to say:
Ask for help. I will never forget the day I sat at the hospital and wrote the post on my mom group that I needed prayers. Within seconds I received over 100 messages of love and support and “what do you need”. There is also a very good friend I want to name, although she will probably not be happy with me, but the minute we arrived at the hospital the first time, I called Dania and I am not exaggerating when I say that 10 minutes later she walked through the hospital doors and took me in her arms and let me just cry it out. So cry. Its ok to cry. Be angry but don’t hold on to anger. Find the joy in tiny things. This is during the hardest times and when those times have passed too. Take things one step at a time. If you only sit up in bed and then decide you cant do more, pat yourself on the back for the step you did take. Each day you will get a little further, but if you don’t, don’t be hard on yourself. Time doesn’t heal. I call bullshit on that. What time does, is show you that you are moving forward. It means that you got through another second, another hour another day. It shows you a new way to live with pain. You are stronger than you give yourself credit for. Cause you never actually know how strong you are until you have no other choice to be strong. Never neglect your husband. No one asks the “dad” how he is. Everyone focuses on the mom, but dads are feeling the same as you are, the pain you are feeling. So give your husband the chance to break down too. And never ever stop being a mamma.
I can not even begin to explain the importance of a support system. I remember standing up at Gia’s memorial and staring back at me were over 200 faces and every single person in that church had either sent us messages, given us calls, sat with us. Then over and above that, were the messages from people worldwide which I still receive to this day. Whenever I feel like I am about to break, I reach out and there is always someone there to bring me back up. Don’t ever try to go through things alone, because you not.
Andria is in the process of setting up a foundation in honor of Gia. She says that the foundation is not about money, it is about “FIGHT, LOVE, and CARE!” and a place where Gia’s legacy will live longer then they will!
Gia also now has a beautiful baby brother named Karter who is 6 months old.
In Loving Memory
Gia Anne van Niekerk 13-03-2017 – 25-09-2017