In the cinematic world, superheroes are individuals who stand out from the crowd. Their powers setting them apart from ordinary people, as they set out to save the day.
Yet, outside the pages of a comic book and far away from the silver screen, one seldom expects to find a true superhero walking among us. Yet, Newcastle is home to a hero of epic proportions. A man who willingly gave of himself to save a child’s life.
The story begins with Conor van Baalen, a five-year-old boy from Boksburg.
At just 22 months old, he became extremely ill and after two months of medical tests, Conor went for a kidney biopsy when he was 24 months old.
It was then discovered that Conor has Focal Segmental Glomerular Sclerosis (FSGS), a rare kidney disease which is often difficult to treat, affecting each patient differently.
FSGS is not a single disease, but rather a pattern of kidney damage and is one of the most common causes of nephrotic syndrome, especially in children and adolescents.
Conor’s nephrologist tried several different treatments and by the end of 2017, doctors confirmed that Conor’s FSGS was Steroid Resistant. The only way forward was a kidney transplant.
His parents, Hennie and Santie immediately began the quest to find a kidney for little Conor, never expecting their guardian angel would simply walk into their lives.
Danie de Wet of Newcastle Cougars Wrestling Club overheard Hennie, Conor’s father, talking to people, telling them how Conor needed a kidney.
Knowing the family through wrestling, the van Baalen family belonging to the Boksburg Wrestling Club in East Gauteng, Danie approached Hennie and said he would donate his kidney to the youngster.
“If I could help save a child’s life, why would I not be willing to do that,” Danie says.
Determined to help Conor, Danie took the necessary steps to donate his kidney to the five-year-old boy.
“It was a gruelling process which took just over a year. The first test was a blood crossmatch test to determine the match. After that, I had a DNA test, nuclear test, CT scans and very intensive blood tests to monitor my protein levels, infection and cholesterol levels,” Danie explains.
To ensure the surgery was a success, Danie also had to quit smoking and keep himself fit and healthy.
On February 25, the surgery finally took place at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre in Johannesburg.
“The surgery was scheduled for four hours, but due to complications, it was a seven-hour procedure for me,” says Danie.
With the surgery a success with both Danie and Conor on the road to recovery, Conor now can lead an active and healthy life. All thanks to Danie.
“The first time I saw Conor after the surgery, was the best I have ever seen him. Just the thumbs-up he tried so hard to give me, made me love him like my own. I feel great and don’t regret the decision I made the day I offered to donate my kidney. I would definitely do it again,” Danie enthuses.
Hennie and Santie explain that leading up to the surgery, they were nervous, scared and excited at the same time.
“As a parent, you are worried not only about the health of your son; but also the health of the donor and his family,” they say.
While Danie has made a powerful impact on Conor’s life, he does not consider his actions special. “I am no hero. I just did something I felt I can do to save a child’s life and to help give him a childhood which he can enjoy with his twin brother.”
Despite not viewing himself as a hero, Conor’s family disagrees.
“Danie is our hero. By donating his kidney to Conor, Danie gave Conor a second chance at life. As parents, it is hard not being able to donate a kidney to your son. As a family, we will never be able to thank Danie enough for such an amazing gift that he gave Conor.”
As Conor prepares to enjoy his life, Hennie and Santie say that Conor can now return to school and enjoy his school life to the maximum.
For parents who are experiencing similar circumstances, their children requiring an organ donor, Hennie and Santie encourages them to never lose hope. “It is a long journey that will mentally and physically drown you.”
Danie encourages others to consider becoming organ donors. “Seeing all the children and tiny babies waiting for kidney and liver donors is heart-breaking,” he concludes.
As parents of a child whose life relied on the generosity of an organ donor, Hennie and Santie also believe it is important to become an organ donor.
“There are so many children waiting for organs, it is heart-breaking. You can save a life,” they conclude.
While Danie and Conor begin the journey to recovery, Pixelfish Marketing and the Newcastillian commends Danie de Wet for his life-changing gift to Conor van Baalen. Danie’s actions and selfless deeds showing superheroes walk among us.