For the first time in nearly a month, Lance Minnies smiled as he struggled to pull his body into a sitting position, legs off the bed, supporting himself.
“This is the first time I’m up. The therapist said I must teach myself to walk to the toilet. I’m going to push myself. I feel good,” the 16-year-old said to the Plainsman from his hospital bed at Tygerberg Hospital earlier this week.
Lance was one of the survivors of the horrific fire in Eastridge on June 11 that claimed the lives of eight Mitchell’s Plain residents, including young children. Lance had been visiting a friend at the MacBeth Street house, when the fire broke out. “I remember bits of what happened. I remember someone screaming ‘there’s a fire’. I tried to move my body but I couldn’t. The smoke was so thick that I couldn’t breathe. Then I lost consciousness.”
Paramedics thought he would die, and he was in a coma for more than a week after the incident. He sustained 99 percent burns to his body, and is still bandaged from the waist down.
He had his first skin graft on his legs on June 29, which he described as a painful experience. But this has not deterred the high-spirited teen,
as he is determined to start walking again. “The doctor said I must try to walk.
“They just mustn’t open my wounds again. It’s very painful; I phoned my mommy and I was crying. But now that it is fine, I’m going to get up and walk.”
Showing the Plainsman his hands, he said: “You see? They took off the bandages. Now that the wounds have dried out, I’m getting there. My hands are fine.” He punches the air with his arms to show that he can now use his hands.
His mother, Rita Minnies, however, warned her son not to be too energetic. “Be careful. We want you to get better fast.”
Ms Minnies was grateful to be able to visit her son, as this was one of her struggles.
She told the Plainsman that she used to work as a char, but was unable to go find work as she had to be at the hospital every day to see her son. Her husband, Hendry, also cannot go back to work after he was shot last year.
“It is a daily struggle. The hospital is far. If I travel, I have to take a taxi from Town Centre to Bellville, then from there to Tygerberg Hospital. When I get back, I am tired. Then I have to find something to put on the table for the rest of the family.
“So I try to get a lift to the hospital here, and to scrape together petrol money there,” said Ms Minnies.
Lance is the fourth eldest son of seven children, and the only one to have pursued his schooling as far as Grade 11, Ms Minnies told the Plainsman. “He is worried about school.
“But his principal said he did well in the first term and for the papers he wrote before the fire, so Lance should not worry.”
Lance attends AZ Berman High School in Tafelsig. Ms Minnies said the school has been very supportive, having visited Lance often, and staff members also picked her up to take her to see her son. “I’m so worried about him.
“But hopefully he will get better soon, and then they will move him to Lentegeur Hospital, nearer to home.”
Lance said he only wrote the first few papers of the June exams and he was worried about having to repeat the year. “I don’t know when I can go back to school. I have to stay here (in hospital) for another two months. I miss school, but mostly, I miss my mommy. I wish I could sleep next to her.”
Ms Minnies said that throughout this difficult time, Lance always thought of her and thanked her for all the effort. She said she struggles so much, but Lance always cheers her up.
“Sometimes I won’t go visit because I have nothing to take to him, but he is always just happy to see me. He calls me when he wants something, but it will be easier if he could be on WhatsApp, because then it will be cheaper for us to communicate, but he does not have a proper phone.”
She said she is worried about what will happen when Lance comes home, as the room in which she now lives with her family in Eastridge is small and cramped.
“Lance will need a proper place to recover. I don’t know what we are going to do.”
She appealed to the community to assist her family with any food, groceries or financial contributions which will help her to travel to the hospital, and feed her family.
She said most of Lance’s clothing, which had been at the friend’s house, were destroyed in the fire. “It would be nice to get some clothing for him for when he comes home.”
Anyone who is able to assist can contact Ms Minnies at 063 560 8272, or Wendy Williams at 063 094 0347.