Rescue diver’s story of recovery.

We usually write our stories of courage after the battle has been fought; but today it feels like I am writing from the midst of a full blown war. Many battles have already been fought, but we also know there are many still ahead.

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A few weeks ago a mom came to see me. Her son was in Baragwanath Hospital. We all have a bit of an idea of the state of the government hospitals right now. However, to hear firsthand how dire the situation is, is soul destroyingly sad. Hearing how a system is failing the ones who need help the most breaks one’s heart.

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How does a young man raised in Sandton end up in Bara? Here, in his mom’s own words from her Back a buddy fund-raising project is his story:

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“My son, Jean Viljoen was severely injured in a head-on collision on the 5th May 2021 (hit by a drunk driver going the wrong way on the M1 highway, Johannesburg). He survived, unfortunately his passenger did not

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He was admitted to Baragwanath Hospital & underwent emergency 6-hour surgery the following day. His injuries involved multiple fractures and dislocations to both legs & feet which were crushed in the impact. He also suffered some facial injuries, bruised ribs etc.

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Jean was in South Africa fetching tourists to visit Mozambique. His usual occupation of dive instructing, deep-sea fishing and being in the tourist industry halted when the Covid-19 pandemic hit & he has been doing everything he could to eke out a living for his family in the meanwhile.

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Jean needs many more surgeries, and thereafter extensive physio and rehabilitation. He faces a long journey ahead & will be out of commission for a long time.

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His wife Kirsty and son Caleb have made it back to South Africa & have been reunited with Jean – many thanks to everyone who helped make this happen. The family will have to upend their lives and relocate to South Africa to be with Jean as he faces the long road of recovery ahead of him.

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To those of you who know Jean, he has always given unselfishly to others in their hour of need. If anyone ever needed his help, he dropped everything and rushed to their aid.

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He flew to India after the devastating 2004 Tsunami and spent 3 weeks assisting & aiding the scores of displaced and traumatized victims.

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In 2005 he joined the dive team involved in recovering the bodies of 3 victims who tragically drowned in the Bruma Lake floods.

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In 2007 he and 3 friends set off on an arduous journey to Northern Mozambique to deliver help and assistance in conjunction with UNICEF to victims displaced during the torrential floods in the region – many of the provisions Jean took with them for victims he had personally paid for, and single-handedly organized the transport, generators and other equipment from friends and other benefactors.

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During Cyclone Dineo in 2017, Jean and Kirsty gave scores of people shelter during the terrifying event and then immediately set about dealing with the aftermath by looking for victims, helping people to rebuild, caring for those displaced and organizing massive donations of food, money, necessities and care for hundreds of people. Jean personally navigated dangerously flooded areas to get to those needing his help straight after the cyclone hit.

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Jean made international headlines in 2017 when he found a piece of debris from the missing Malaysia flight MH370 along the Mozambican coast. He spent many hours scouring up and down the coast to see if he could find any other pieces. https://www.news.com.au/travel/travel-updates/debris-sparks-mh370-plane-crash-theory/news-story/97c462ecdcdd6652cdacafaf269994ab

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Jean and his family need our help! If there is ANYTHING you can do, it will be accepted with our deepest gratitude and thanks.

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Funds raised will go towards Jean’s medical expenses and rehabilitation, relocation of the family from Mozambique, interim living expenses (as they now have no source of income at all) & ongoing physiotherapy/medical assistance Jean needs to get back on his feet.

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I will keep everyone updated with news as and when it becomes available. I am also very happy to provide all donors with a full accounting of how the funds have been dispersed. If you’d like to be added to our WhatsApp group “Help Jean Heal” for updates on his progress, please contact me on +27836042718 or email me on 22juno@zamail.co.za

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I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

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Shelley”

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Jean left Baragwanath at the beginning of June and came to stay with us at Sunninghill Recovery Lodge. To go from a ward with 42 other patients, non-stop noise and cold water to our lodge was a massive change. He was in tears when he received a cup of coffee in a porcelain cup as opposed to a polestyrene container and to have hot water in a lovely private bathroom was already a big step towards his emotional recovery. I cannot describe the gusto with which he enjoyed that first English breakfast! To be able to be with his son and wife after days of separation was an enormous relief for all three of them. There are hours of therapy ahead before he will walk again, and the PTSD of losing his passenger is haunting him continually.

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My heart also goes out to the patients left behind in Bara and all the other government hospitals, as receiving good care is almost impossible. The staff are exhausted, overwhelmed and forced to service a public with almost no resources. Johannesburg is limping along with the loss of Charlotte Maxeke’s services and this during the height of a pandemic. Helen Joseph and Rahima Moosa often do not have water and Rahima Moosa’s generators seem to not work. Add to this diabolical situation a severe shortage of nurses and doctors and other professionals, and you have the perfect storm. Can you imagine the health workers’ frustration at not being able to help, of being forced to become cold and hard as there is no alternative if they are to survive in their profession?

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Jean Viljoen is not lucky, but he is luckier than most as at least he now has a chance of being treated privately. Tonight, I salute those tired government employees and the scared patients not receiving the care they should get.

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