By Shanell Daniel

Proving that illness does not represent who you are and that a strong soul can emerge from suffering is exactly what Kershan Naidoo (35) has done in the last eight months.

Kershan, a commercial pilot, was told that he would never walk again or function as normal after his life was
set on a different course on 4 January. Despite him needing constant care and rehabilitation, the fighter within him is on a mission to take back the life he once lived.

Speaking to The Glenwood Weekly Gazette, his sister, Livashnee Naidoo, says that he was in ICU at a private hospital in uMhlanga, Durban, from 4 January to 29 May. Since then he is a long-stay patient at a rehabilitation centre in Durban.

Livashnee spoke of Kershan’s story. “In December 2016 Kershan flew to one of the countries in West Africa. During a rest break he broke his arm and flew back to Durban a few days later. Being a pilot, he needed to ensure that his arm was fully functioning.

“Kershan was taken to hospital by our parents on 4 January for what should have been a day-procedure to fix his injured arm. He went in as a cash patient.”

Livashnee says that the details surrounding what happened to Kershan in theatre remain unclear. “All we know is that while in theatre and after anaesthetic was administered to him, it was only at the 12 minute mark that they first realised that Kershan was not breathing. He suffered hypoxia. Kershan remained in a semi-vegetative state for months. The prognosis did not look good as doctors could not say if, or when, he would wake up and what his neurological condition wouldbe like.”

She says that a few hours later his sisters called the hospital to check on him and was told that he was in ICU and that the operation did not take place. “I received a call from my sister, Priya. All she said was, ‘Kersh is in ICU and mum and dad are rushing back to the hospital now. We don’t know what’s wrong but just pray for him with all your might’.

“The sight which greeted our parents was something no parent should ever have to
go through. Kershan was unresponsive and was breathing with the help of a ventilator. Nobody could tell if he would wake up or if he would be okay. They sat in Kershan’s ICU room the entire night and thereafter slept over at the hospital every night. It’s the most heartbreaking thing to watch a father sobbing over his son.”

Livashnee says Kershan was unresponsive for months apart from erratic movements, heavy sweating, and his limbs being in a folded contracted position. “In the early stages we were told that he had ‘reasonable’ brain activity, that he was getting worse and that it was likely that he may never wake up,” says Livashnee.

A true testament to his endurance and the fact that he refuses to be defeated, Livashnee emphasised that around Easter Kershan began defying the odds and became responsive, making little improvements. His will to live, and live healthily, outweighed any negative medical report he could receive. “First his eyes slowly started focusing, we would show him photos because nobody knew what he may or may not remember, then the use of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ cards to see if he could understand basic questions.

Then we waited for his cough reflex to come back so that the tracheostomy tube could be removed from his throat and tried to get him to swallow by giving him honey. Things that seem insignificant in everyday life became huge strides in his recovery. But waking up was only half the battle. Kershan could not talk, walk or move by himself. His arms remained in a folded contracted position. He would have to re-learn everything. “At the end of May, Kershan was moved to the Entabeni Life Rehabilitation Centre. His rehabilitation started slowly as his condition is complex. But it is Kershan’s spirit and mental attitude that is most surprising. While many other people would have given up, Kershan continues to push himself everyday in rehab. From not being able to sit in a wheel chair, he now sits and tries to move himself slowly with his feet.

His voice is getting stronger and he can now say phrases. From not being able to use his legs, he now cycles on a stationary bicycle. “It takes tremendous effort to tell his mind to keep his arms straight but he forces himself to do it. He tells the physiotherapist that he will walk and that he wants to stand. He shows us the power of faith, hope and love,” said his sister.

In addition to being a pilot, Kershan was also a flight instructor at Virginia Air School. He was based in Mali and was sub-contracted to provide his service to the UN in flying their peace keeping forces. He was also sub-contracted for National Geographic. Those who know Kershan vouch that he is an exceptional person. As one person who knew Kershan said: “He was doing God’s work in Africa.”

Kershan’s parents did everything in their power to educate him and make his dreams come true. Today, their only dream is to have their loving, sporty and healthy son back. Hospitalisation and rehabilitation has proven to be a very costly affair that his parents – both pensioners – cannot afford. Because of the nature of his job and due to him being based outside of South Africa, Kershan is not on medical aid and fundraising is now the only option to pay for the ongoing exorbitant medical costs.

His family has used up their life savings to pay for his treatment both while in hospital and now at rehab. Livashnee says that fundraising was initiated due to one of Kershan’s friends realising that the family needed financial help but did not know how to go about receiving it. She set up the “Kershan’s Wings” Facebook page to help sell raffle tickets but it was clear that people wanted to do more for Kershan.

His family has to date paid medical bills for his treatment in hospital including blood tests, brain scans, X-rays, physiotherapists, occupational therapist, dietician, speech therapist, surgery for a tracheostomy and for the peg in his stomach. They are still paying for many of these expenses and on top of this now have to pay rehabilitation expenses which cost R120 000 for three weeks, excluding medicines, a wheelchair which costs about R13 000, bath facilities which Kershan will need when he goes home, and the costs of employing a carer as Kershan may suffer a severe seizure again and he needs a medically qualified person on hand in case of such an emergency.

Kershan’s mother, Dhanabagiam ‘Saro’, 65, tearfully said: “My child was a gentleman. Sometimes I think I’m dreaming when I see him like this in his bed. My child was our back bone. He supported us. We are on state pension and the bills are so much.”

His father, Ganes ‘Krish’, 65, said: “We want to give Kershan the best treatment. We want him back. The bills have increased so much because of how long he has been in hospital and rehab. He needs a lot more treatment so there will be much more costs involved.”

Livashnee said: “It is likely that Kershan may never fly again but as I tell him, ‘You are a pilot, not was a pilot’. We ask that the public be his co-pilots in supporting him during his rehabilitation and to get him back on his feet. We urge everyone to follow the story on Kershan’s Wings Facebook page. Any financial contributions can be made and we particularly urge companies to get involved in helping with fundraising initiatives or meeting any donations raised.”

For more information on ‘Kershan’s Wings’ drive, email kershanswings@gmail.com.
Donations to “Kershan’s Wings” can be made via:

Name of Bank: Standard Bank
Name of account: KERSHAN’S WINGS

Account number: 252090713
Account type: BIZLAUNCH

Branch: UMHLANGA RIDGE

Branch code: 057829

Branch code (electronic payments): 051001

SWIFT address: SBZA ZA JJ