When Chronic Illness Strikes a Family

THE Du Toit family’s happiness is infectious. Their warm love for one another is a delight to behold. Meeting them, you would never guess that they have endured so much hardship.

To begin with, when their first child, Michelle, was two, Braam and Ann learned that she had a chronic hereditary disease that causes debilitating muscle weakness.

“All of a sudden,” explains Ann, the mother, “you have to learn how to cope with a crippling chronic illness. You realize that family life will not be the same.”

But after another daughter and a son were born, further tragedy beset this family. One day when the three children were playing outside, the two girls came running into the house. “Mommy! Mommy!” they cried. “Come quickly. There’s something wrong with Neil!”

Rushing out, Ann saw three-year-old Neil’s head flopped helplessly to one side. He was unable to hold his head upright.

“The shock was terrible,” recalls Ann, “and the realization was instantaneous. I was heartsick that this healthy little boy would have to face the challenge of living with the same debilitating muscle weakness that his older sister had.”

“The joy of starting off with a healthy family,” says the father, Braam, “was soon overshadowed by some of the greatest challenges that we have ever had to face.”

Eventually Michelle, despite receiving the best of hospital treatment, died as a result of complications caused by her illness. She was just 14 years old at the time. Neil continues to battle the effects of his illness.

This raises the question, How do families such as the Du Toits cope with the challenges of having a chronically ill family member? In order to answer that question, let us analyze some of the ways families are affected by chronic illness.