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Teaching is my SUPERPOWER – Jean-Mari Van Zyl-Smit

In 2006 I started studying at Boland College for my ECD (Early Childhood Development) Grade R diploma. I was busy studying for about 6 months up until one night, when I ended up in the ICU. It was just the beginning of a very difficult time that laid ahead for me. The doctors ran all the tests available in SA on me, but they couldn’t find what the problem was. I turned 21 in the ICU Panorama. The lecturers of Boland College supported me and my family tremendously during this time and they visited me regularly. I was also able to take my exam in a private room in the hospital with an ICU nurse present.

A fellow student and friend of mine, Sumia van Zyl, visited me every 2nd weekend and gave me updates on assignments and work I had to do. I was able to complete my work on a laptop in the ICU with permission from the doctors. The hospital staff and ICU nurses also assisted me with the printing and lamination of my assignments. I have to say, this helped me keep my mind busy and stay positive despite my circumstances.

In December 2006, I went home with a Bipap machine that was connected day and night to a tracheotomy.

In 2007, I had to decide if I wanted to go back to Boland College or not. In February 2007, I went back to college still attached to the Bipap and a private nurse assisted me 24/7, who was paid by our medical aid.

At the beginning, it wasn’t easy…students stared at me, but my classmates were very supportive and treated me as one of them. During this time it was very difficult for me, because I couldn’t talk as a result of my trachea. I had to communicate via writing or people had to read my lips. I couldn’t do my practical assignment at a normal school so I had to go to Worcester De La Bat School and started learning sign language. The doctors thought that I would never be able to breath again without the #Bipap.

It was a hectic time and I was in a deep #depression. I even tried to commit #suicide at one point.

As of 2006, I started praying to God everyday and asked that I be healed so that I could speak again. Days, weeks, months passed by…I started to think that God had forgotten me. However, one day at college a MIRACLE happened; I could start making noises and say names.

I went to the hospital again for two weeks, and had my trachea removed. I could speak normally again. God had heard my prayers.

In 2008, I went to the Boland College in Stellenbosch for my final year and I could finally experience a normal student’s life.

I received my Diploma in 2009 and I got my first job as a Grade R teacher at Dagbreek Primary School. At first glance, I looked like a normal everyday teacher…but I had to face a lot of challenges during this time. I was still sick and I still had to sleep with a Bipap at night. I still wondered what was wrong with me, but I did not let it get me down.

In 2010 I got engaged and in 2012 I got married.

In 2012, I signed up at UNISA and started studying for my B.Ed Foundation Phase Degree.

In 2013, I was diagnosed with a rare disease called #PompeDisease, a disease for which there is NO CURE. I was afraid and very worried…I thought I was going to die soon or that I wont be able to work anymore. My medical aid approved ERT, the only medication available for this disease. This medication helps that the sickness doesn’t get any worse.

In February 2014, I received my first treatment. I had to accept that this was a chronic illness and that I would have to go for treatment every 2 weeks for the rest of my life. During a 6 month period, I had to go to a hospital in Cape Town every two weeks. I started to teach myself how to administer the medication and how to activate my port.

I wanted to live as normal as possible. I wanted to be independent of a nurse, doctor or hospital. My #neurologist supported me and Kelly du Plessis from RDSA helped me to get permission from my medical aid so that I can administer the treatment at home on my own.

It is now October 2018 and I have been doing my own ERT for 5 years now. I had planned it that every second Friday, I would go home at 1 o’ clock when school gets out, and then start with my treatment.

In 2016,after 4 years, I received my B.Ed Foundation Phase degree Cum Laude. I have been a Grade 1 teacher for 2 years now and I enjoy my work greatly. As of 2018, I have been a teacher at Dagbreek Primary School for 10 years now.

To work with children is my passion and I enjoy teaching immensely. Yes, there are many challenges in my life that I have to face, but I try to be as positive as possible.

The headmaster at the school where I teach, is a great person who understands my circumstances and supports me greatly. I get sick very quickly and often end up in the hospital where I need to be administered intravenous anti-biotics. However I get better, and resume my job as Mrs Smit the teacher.

My colleagues also support me greatly.

I try to LIVE EVERYDAY as if it was my last.

Yes, some afternoons I get very tired. In these cases I go and rest on my bed for an hour with the Bipap on. I also try to get enough sleep over the weekends to build up my strength.

I thank God everyday for, despite my illness, the ability to live my life as a teacher, my passion. I also thank God that I have no pain and that I am still able to walk.Thanks to God, I can also live a “normal’ life even if obstacles come into my life sometimes.

I would like to study for my Honors degree in Inclusive Education and I also want to reach my future dreams.



Your never know how Strong your are until being Strong is your only Choice ♡♡

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