Their story has attracted the attention of the entire North Coast community and strangers from around the world felt their hearts break as they heard the news of 13-year-old ballerina Kiara’s near-fatal accident on Christmas Eve.
Her prognosis after the accident was devastating and doctors told her parents, Jaci and Richard Mun-Gavin who are co-pastors of Anthem Church in Durban North and parents to seven children, that Kiara would either be in a permanent coma or remain severely brain damaged. But, now, nearly six months later, her mother sits beside her daughter and shares their story – a story of trust and faith and the incredible recovery of their little ballerina . . .
Richard and I never set out to have a big family. But, once we got a vision for how significant the role of raising the next generation really is, and our potential to impact the world that we leave behind, we found our purpose in parenting. Now it is our absolute privilege and delight to raise seven children. We decided to adopt early on in our marriage, simply because we had the ability to offer a home and family to a child, and felt it would be the right thing to do. Perhaps one of the reasons Richard and I can manage seven children is our 13-year-old daughter, Kiara, who has always been my right hand and has a heart to serve Jesus, her family and friends.
On Christmas Eve, as Kiara and I were pulling into the parking lot of our church, a motorbike smashed into the passenger door of our car. Kiara was sitting in the passenger seat and it struck her head through the glass. I turned to her to ask if she was okay and she fell onto my lap. At that point I realised that she was bleeding from the head. Although her eyes were open, she was not conscious. People ran to help and the car guard, who knew us, ran into the church to call Richard who was already there with our other children. Paramedics managed to sedate her, and we took her to Umhlanga Netcare Hospital. A friend of ours, who is a specialist physician, explained that she had cracked her skull. When he began praying with Richard and I, “Life and not death. Life and not death,” our knees went weak as we understood the gravity of the situation. Kiara’s first surgery – from 8pm on Christmas Eve until after midnight to remove bone fragments from the brain and reconstruct the broken skull – was a success on the table. But, by early Christmas morning, it was clear the injury was far worse than originally suspected. It was not a localised brain injury as they first thought, but a global brain injury of the worst magnitude. Her entire brain was damaged and swelling fast and, when they had no other option, at 8am on Christmas morning they rushed her in for an emergency craniotomy to remove nearly half her skull to make room for the swelling. Unfortunately, even that seemed not to be enough as her brain pressure continued to rise, restricting the flow of oxygenated blood to her brain. She slipped into the deepest level of coma and her bodily responses to routine pain tests showed that her brain was no longer communicating with her body. At this point her heart also required life support. She remained in a coma for the next week, with the doctors unable to give us any hope beyond possible brainstem function. In layman’s terms, if she lived, she was expected to be either in a permanent coma or to remain severely brain damaged as her brain scans indicated, only worse so due to the 72 hours in which she had had severely limited oxygen to the brain.
COMMUNITY & TRUST
Day and night, the hospital was flooded with people who believe in the power of prayer, sometimes over 200 people at a time filling the waiting room. The hospital graciously gave us the unoccupied day ward for the prayer team to base themselves. God united the people of Durban and beyond, across every conceivable divide, simply in the name of love and mercy.
Kiara woke up on New Year’s Day. She opened her eyes when we said, “Good morning.” Although unable to speak due to the brain damage, she reached up and touched our faces and indicated that she knew us as mom and dad. In the next few days she recovered the use of not only her left side, but her right as well, much to the doctor’s pleasant surprise. She has gone on to relearn to talk, walk, to do puzzles and to read. Within weeks she outgrew her need for occupational and speech therapy. The part of the skull that had been removed was placed in her abdomen to keep it alive and, after a brief respite at home with a helmet carefully protecting her unprotected brain, it was back to the hospital mid-February to have her skull replaced. She has continued to recover cognitively, and has even managed to get back into her dancing shoes.
I have had the rare experience of my firstborn becoming almost like a new-born for a second time. We have been through all the stages again, but this time at double speed! We’ve learned to recognise each other, we’ve learned to walk and talk. We’ve learned to read and to solve problems. We’ve had to hold hands everywhere we went. We’ve had to go back to soothing night time routines like baby massage to classical music with dim lights. We’ve relived the first 12 years of her life. It’s been hard, but there has been a sweetness to it that I will treasure. Motherhood is a gift – the opportunity to love another person each moment of each day. Now that we’re getting back to normal, she says she misses our time in hospital. Today we celebrate her life, the incredible goodness of God, and the miracle of unity that has happened in this city. Details: www.jacimungavin.com, @jacimungavin1 on Facebook, @jacimg on Instagram.
Text: Monique De Villiers-Delport | Photographs: Steph Stein Photography