Survivor: Deborah Meyer, pictured here pre-coronavirus with husband Wilfred, was given a less than 50% chance of making it alive through Covid-19
For Deborah Meyer, coronavirus meant a ventilator, an induced coma and 31 days in hospital. But she’s finally come out the other end. What was it like? She told NANINE STEENKAMP

Deborah (53) grew up in Lavender Hill and was educated at Wittebome High School. She has worked her whole life in education administration and is currently employed by the Cape Higher Education Consortium. She is married to Wilfred, rector of Holy Trinity Church in Cape Town’s Kalk Bay and they have two children, radiographer Cleo-Maré and rugby-playing UCT student, Jordan

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‘WHEN COVID-19 CAME TO South Africa, I thought it was a form of flu that some people could get worse than others.

Our daughter Cleo-Maré contracted it late in April, then our son Jordan, then my husband Wilfred. They all tested positive the same week. They were quite sick for five days with sore throats and runny noses, but they took the cough medicine and paracetamol the hotline prescribed, and were fine.

I tested negative initially, but then got an excruciating headache. I was admitted to Groote Schuur Hospital, tested positive, and came home after three days. But then I just deteriorated. Every day, we phoned the hotline and every day they told us to try different tablets. By the next week I had a fever of 40, a fast pulse and was struggling to breathe.

The family says I stopped making sense and became totally deurmekaar [confused]. Wilfred and Jordan were still in quarantine, so Cleo-Maré drove me in to the Kingsbury Hospital while they followed separately.

‘After I was diagnosed with coronavirus, I deteriorated and became confused,’ says Deborah. ‘They put me on a ventilator that night.’

I felt that God was with me, that I was going to get out of there but it was quite scary being alone. Worse than that – I was starting to feel I couldn’t breathe. It was the most scary, panicky thing ever; I don’t wish it on anybody. They put me on a ventilator that very night, in an induced coma.

The next thing I remember is coming out the coma and asking if I was dreaming and where I was, then how long I’d been there. I discovered I had been lying there for eight days!

Panic and many other emotions set in, exacerbated by not having my family near, wondering if they were doing ok, and how long it would take me to get out of there.

‘Panic set in when I came out of the coma, wondering if the family was okay,’ says Deborah

Once I was off the morphine and more lucid, I could WhatsApp and call the family. But the doctors then discovered I had a haematoma (a bleed outside my blood vessels), and that half my lung was septic! They had to cut a piece away. A couple of days later, I had to go back into the theatre. Because another piece of my lung was septic, they had to cut away more. So, I’ve now got one full left lung, and half a right lung. There were times that I felt like giving up but I heard God say to me: ‘You know what? It’s not your time to give up.’

I hadn’t been to a doctor or in hospital since Jordan’s birth – 20 years ago – at the very same hospital. But I then discovered I had been diabetic for about a year. Maybe if I’d done some routine checkups, I would’ve had a different experience!

I was just so happy

Coming out of hospital and seeing my children and my soulmate, Wilfred, was overwhelming. I was just so happy to see them. It’s so good to be home, in familiar territory with familiar people. There are days when I just sit and I don’t speak because I’m just trying to process things.

I still get tired and then I start coughing. Every day I’m getting better and try to do a little bit more. There are days when I feel too tired to get up, but I have to because I have to get stronger. I’ll get there: I didn’t get this far for nothing. I have a second chance, new life, a new opportunity!

I now need to work out how to do things over this time, including navigating myself around the house. I get a little bit mad at Wilfred if the kitchen’s not clean, but these are small things! I so appreciate the kindness of people who brought food for my family and were there for them when I couldn’t do these things. They’re still pouring in with food and snacks!

 ’My soulmate’: Deborah with Wilfred on their wedding day
Corona virus survivor
Above and below: Deborah with Jordan and Cleo-Maré in times of health

We still don’t know how we got Covid. Don’t, for one minute, think you’re guaranteed never to get coronavirus. It can come at anytime, anywhere, for anyone, and when you least expect it. If it’s your turn, it’s your turn. If you get it, stay positive: concentrate on the survival rate. It’s so easy to go into a pit of despair and think about death and darkness. Believe that you will make it through. Stay positive!

I was able to trust God and I believe He did a miracle in my life. I can’t explain why some people make it and some people don’t make it. For some people it won’t make sense but you know, I believe I never went into theatre without Him and I believe that He was with me, every single day.’


‘When the doctors told us Debbie was in a critical condition and they were going to put her on the ventilator, the uncertainty, stress and pain were very traumatising for the children and me.
For me, it was like having a hole in my soul. For many days we had no contact with Deborah, just with the doctor, who was very kind, but it was only for about a minute a day while she told us how Debbie was doing and what would happen that day. On the basis of that, we prayed for her.
Ferdinand, a doctor friend, was in contact with the hospital doctor and explained things to us, so we could understand them better. He was frank with us, and twice told us that there was a less than 50% chance that she would make it. Three times, the doctors said: ‘This is the last thing we can do.’
We started a prayer initiative called Lighting a Candle 4 Debbie, asking people to pray for her healing and help us stay positive. It ended up going all over the world and was such a comfort and source of joy in our anxious moments. Nonetheless, it was at times a lonely and anxious journey, but I held on to God’s promise to carry us through our deep, dark valleys. I even took comfort in the name of the hospital group: New Life!
The doctor continued to remind us that not that many patients make it through the ventilation process. So hearing that Debbie was off the ventilator and breathing by herself, felt like a true miracle.

The doctors said three times that this was the last thing they could do

When the doctor finally said that Debbie could speak to us on the phone, patience was still required as her phone was flat, and then she couldn’t remember her PIN!  The doctor said she was surprised by the speed of Debbie’s daily progress but she remained very sick and experienced painful breathing for many days.
The second operation – to remove the septic part of her lung – was extremely high risk and the surgeon was very hesitant to do it. All we could do was keep placing the cry of our hearts before Jesus Christ.
As Debbie recovered, we had such a deep sense of gratitude for the hospital care: words will never be able to express this fully. The ward sister sent us a photo of her doing a walking exercise and Jordan and I were so excited!
I want to encourage people to protect themselves and others from Covid in this season, to appreciate life rather than dice with it. It’s a gift. Debbie, of course, was not aware of her diabetic condition but I suppose our diets at the rectory are going to be seriously altered!
Debs took off her wedding rings before going to hospital and I put them on her as soon as she got into the car. I also gave her a new ring for her right hand to thank God for His healing and to remind us always to appreciate Him.
This was an incredibly deep journey of faith and I took refuge in praying through the words of Jesus: ‘Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’.
 Light a Candle 4 Debbie, an initiative set up by the Meyers, led to international prayer support
‘Debbie didn’t know she had diabetes,’ says Wilfred. ‘I suppose our diets at the rectory are going to be seriously altered!’
Wilfred wore his wife’s wedding rings on a cord around his neck until she emerged from hospital.  He put them back on her finger in the hospital car park and gave her a new ring for her right hand ‘in appreciation of God’s protection over her’.
IF you’d  like prayer for yourself or someone else struggling with their health, call one of the following prayer lines for support:
  • CBN:  +27 (0)71 763 3810 (WhatsApp voice calls, voice notes and messages welcome)
  • Radio Pulpit: sign up for a free phone call from someone who will pray for you
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