When Thembeka was two years old she suffered 3rd degree burns to almost her entire body. *She was lucky enough to get the correct care and medical treatment.

Thembeka Sibanyoni’s Story

Thembeka is 7 years old and she has an incredible energy and a warm confidence that touches those around her. At the age of just 2, Thembeka was in an accidental house fire and she suffered 3rd degree burns to almost her entire body. Thembeka is one of the few burn survivors that was lucky enough to get the correct care and medical treatment.

It was a hot afternoon and a thunderstorm was approaching on the 13th of November 2014. Thembeka’s mother, Elena, was in her kitchen when the thunder started. She ran outside to take her washing off the line and called for Thembeka to come inside from playing but she couldn’t find her. Thinking that Thembeka was likely already inside, she continued to collect her washing. As the rain started to pour, a neighbour called out to Elena that she should check if something is burning inside because there’s smoke coming out of the house. Panicked, Elena ran inside and called out for her daughter. Thembeka was trapped in her room as the flames had created a barrier. Elena ran outside crying for help. One of her neighbours broke the bedroom window and climbed in to rescue little Thembeka. Elena called an ambulance, but it took too long to get there so one of her neighbours drove them to the Witbank Hospital.

The wait began for Thembeka’s family as 15 to 20 doctors saw to Thembeka. Finally, Thembeka was admitted to the ICU. And for the first time, Elena could clearly see the burns on her child. Thembeka had 3rd degree burns that extended from her face to her hands, her chest and parts of her feet. The doctors advised Elena that she should not leave the hospital because there was a chance that Thembeka might not make it through the night.

But Thembeka made it through. She needed an immediate blood transfusion which kept her steady for some time. But after a few days, she needed another one. After the second blood transfusion, the doctors realised that gangrene was forming in Thembeka’s toes and fingers and they recommended that the infected limbs be amputated. Elena begged the doctors to do anything they could to save Thembeka, and so she agreed to the amputations.

While Thembeka was in hospital, Elena’s sister, Thembiwe, reached out to Annerie Du Plooy from the South African Burn Society. Annerie was able to give the right support and care for Elena, which prepared her for when Thembeka was able to go home. She was released from Witbank Hospital in April of 2015. During Thembeka’s stay at Witbank Hospital she was treated by Dr Vilakazi. He helped Elena and Thembeka beyond just the treatment of the wounds, his words of wisdom and encouragement gave Elena the strength to be there for her daughter on the road ahead.

Through the months and years following the incident, Thembeka has had the right care in the form of counselling, treatments and follow ups with doctors, nurses, teachers and members of the South African Burn Society.

Against all the odds, Thembeka was helped by burn specialists with the right expertise to best treat her – the expertise that not a lot of medical professionals in South Africa have. It is because of this that Thembeka has been given the chance to live her life. She can sing, dance, play sports, and more than anything, she can just be a kid. She goes to a normal school and has the confidence to go on and dream of her future, to be whoever she wants to be one day. Thembeka wants to be a doctor so that she might too be able to heal and help people someday.

The Lucky Ones - Helping Burn Victim Survivors In South Africa

Improving the lives of those affected by burn injury through patient care, education, research and advocacy.

The South African Burn Society is dedicated to the prevention of burn injury, the promotion of comprehensive burn care through education and the development of research in the field.

Contact Information

South African Burn Society
Tel: 083 536 6806
Email: saburnsociety@gmail.com