When Chantal van Aarde was diagnosed with hydrocephalus (water on the brain) when she was born in 1981, her doctor told her parents, Phillip and Janet, that she only had three months to live.
But on Friday, April 29, Chantal celebrated her 35th birthday, in their Steenberg home.
Southern Mail has been invited to two of her birthdays before – her 21st birthday as well as her 29th celebration.
Although Chantal is the size of a seven year old and cannot walk or talk, Ms Van Aarde believes she was spared “through the grace of the Lord”.
Mr Van Aarde wanted to share their experience of raising a daughter who will never grow into a woman. “When the doctor called me to tell me that my baby has three months to live, he also asked me if I still wanted a sick baby because I have four other healthy children.”
Mr Van Aarde said he was glad he said yes, and now “we are still taking care of her, like a baby.”
Hydrocephalus is a condition that occurs when excess fluid builds up in the skull and causes the brain to swell. Chantal has a shunt, a thin tube implanted in her brain, to drain away the excess build up of cerebronspinal fluid (CSF) into the abdominal cavity, avoiding blockage.
Although the Van Aardes have a lot of patience, they are now seniors and it can get tough looking after their disabled daughter.
Mr Van Aarde is 69 and Ms Van Aarde is 66. Their daughter Charlene Rudolf quit her job to help take care of Chantal.
Chantal’s eyesite is not good but she can hear very well and she is familiar with her siblings’ car sounds when they pull up in front of their house.
“When our great-grandson Kaiden, 2, came over to wish her, he sang ‘Happy Birthday’. It was as if she was laughing because she got very excited,” said Ms Van Aarde.
Chantal can only make sounds and her favourite affirmative answer to a question is “uhmmm”
Ms Van Aarde said she was in hospital for a week when she had to remove a cataract from her eye and Mr Van Aarde had to feed Chantal. “She was a little upset and refused to eat because she missed her mommy,” said Mr Van Aarde.
But when Ms Van Aarde came back, she asked Chantal if “daddy was nagging a lot, she answered her usual ‘uhmmm’.”
Ms Van Aarde has ended up several times in hospital due to mini strokes, said Mr Van Aarde, but then he takes over caring for their daughter.
With all their challenges, Mr Van Aarde said he would like to send a message to the young mothers to appreciate their “healthy children and to take good care of them.”
He said: “I always take Chantal to the shop in her pram and I saw how a mother swore at her child. It breaks my heart seeing these things, because that mother has a healthy child and here we wish our daughter could run around.”
He said he raised his children in a proper way with respect, and pleads to all the mothers to look after their children.