By Toni Erasmus
Blaze Bella-Rose Koopman and her family are from Goodwood in Cape Town. When she was just four years old, she was diagnosed with liver cirrhosis: a condition where permanent scarring of the liver interferes with its functioning. Blaze was one of approximately 4 300 people on a waiting list for a life-saving organ donation.
Michelle and Byron Koopman are the parents to beautiful Blaze and welcome us into their life and the story of their answered prayer. Blaze had just turned four when they started noticing their little one was not doing well. They immediately sought medical help because she struggled to walk, constantly cried with pain, and her stomach swelled. “Blaze was not doing well; we couldn’t bear to see our child go through so much pain, and I took her to the doctor,” says Michelle.
After multiple doctors’ visits, many challenges and traumatic experiences which included different diagnoses, Blaze was eventually referred to the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, where she was diagnosed with liver cirrhosis. This life-changing news caught the family by surprise. In fact, her mother was taken aback by the news because everything they had planned had now been interrupted. “I went through so many changes and challenges; my body was in so much pain, and my stomach was so big that the children at school made fun and laughed at me. Now that I was in hospital, I missed out on school for most of the time and I wasn’t living a normal life like my friends. It affected me so badly in so many ways that I could never wish it on anyone,” says Blaze as she explains how her diagnosis changed her life.
Blaze spent a year in and out of hospital with various test and treatments taking place to help her navigate through her condition, while she waited for a liver and kidney donor. After seven long years of waiting, Blaze and her family received a call that there was a donor. Everything started to escalate after that, and the family was so hopeful and excited, but after the theatre was prepared, the shattering news came that the donor’s blood group did not match Blaze’s, and the surgery could not continue. Blaze experienced a rollercoaster of emotions that she describes as “growing her faith in God”; she had never felt so high and so low in one day. It was this experience that made her value God and trust that He would help her through all that was happening.
The family gathered in prayer and with faith that Blaze would soon receive a donor who matched her blood group and that the operation would save her life. Without this operation, her chances of living another few months or years looked slim. Doctors were doing their best, and three months later, Blaze’s parents received another call, this time one that would change her life completely. “I was so scared as I knew this could change my life for the better or for the worse. I was speechless on my way to the hospital,” says Blaze.
A donor with her exact blood type had donated his kidney and liver – exactly what she had hoped for and prayed for. Blaze was then admitted to Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, where the 12-hour operation was performed successfully. Blaze also received 2 units of whole blood and other medication to help her recover. This surgery gave Blaze a chance at life; it gave back a daughter, a sister, and a friend to so many waiting for her in the family room at the hospital.
After three weeks, she was well on her way to recovery and adapted to the new changes in her body. Blaze will take immune suppression tablets and other vital medication for the rest of her life to help her body retain the donated organs.
Blaze is now 16 years old and celebrated her 5th transplant anniversary on 12 February 2023. “I want to thank everyone and encourage people to continue donating organs and blood because if it had not been for my organ donor and the many blood donors, I most likely would not have been here today. I also want to remind everyone waiting for an organ or blood donor to not give up on believing but to keep praying and hoping,” says Blaze with emotion.
Did you know that with one organ donation, you can save up to seven lives, and with one blood donation, you can save up to three lives! Sign up today to become a life-saving donor to help many others like Blaze.