Discovery pulse oximeter makes all the difference to 74-year old’s recovery from COVID-19


Multiple members of Dewald Wentzel’s immediate family – including his elderly father, Jannie – contracted COVID-19 at the same time. Dewald knew that a pulse oximeter was critical to monitoring the seriousness of his father’s symptoms while he recovered at home, but none were available.

Dewald Wentzel lives in Cape Town and has, in the past, worked as a paramedic for Netcare 911. So, when it comes to conditions such as COVID-19, he has an excellent understanding of prevention and treatment.

  • Listen to Dewald Wentzel share his family’s experience of COVID-19. This podcast is part of the Discovery COVID-19 podcast series and is one of many podcasts on the COVID-19 podcast hub.

Dewald lives two kilometres away from his immediate family, who all share a large property.

At the end of June 2020, multiple members of Dewald’s family were diagnosed with COVID 19. His 74-year-old father, who lives with a number of chronic illnesses, was also diagnosed with the disease. Now, Dewald shares his experience of his family’s ordeal in his own words:

Dewald’s family members test positive for COVID-19

I’m blessed to have a close family. Under normal conditions, we spend a good amount of time together. The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough as I have had to keep my distance from my family even though I live really close to the large property that they all share.

My father lives with my brother and his wife and their two children – seven and 13 years old. My sister and her two children live on the property too, and my dad, Jannie Wentzel, sees them for supper every night.

At the end of June this year, my brother, who is a policeman, developed symptoms of COVID 19 and then tested positive for the disease. The whole family went into self-isolation right away. But, a couple of days later my father developed a slight cough with some nausea and vomiting and he soon tested positive for COVID-19 too. Then my brother’s wife and his 13-year-old child also tested positive. Then my sister tested positive too.

You can imagine the stress I was feeling knowing that this was happening to almost my entire family, and that I could not be there with them, to help them. My biggest concern was for my father as, being 74 years old, he falls into the high-risk category for severe illness as a result of COVID 19 and he has a couple of comorbidities which worsen this risk. Remember that people at high risk could well require hospitalisation and are at risk of dying too.

Dewald begins his search for a pulse oximeter

Having worked as a paramedic, I knew that it would be valuable to get hold of a small device for my dad called a pulse oximeter – a small, lightweight device that monitors the amount of oxygen in your blood. I called multiple pharmacy chains and independent pharmacies too and nobody had stock.

If you have never seen a pulse oximeter, it’s a small, lightweight, clamp-like device that fits comfortably over your fingertip. Imagine a finger puppet – it fits similarly. Once on your fingertip, it quickly measures the amount of oxygen (what we call oxygen saturation) in the blood. It can also measure your heart rate, or pulse. It’s a painless and non-invasive process and takes about a minute to give you a reading.

The demand for these devices had spiked as there is growing awareness among the public that they are valuable in monitoring a potentially deadly aspect of COVID-19, called “silent hypoxia”. When you develop this condition, you experience a reduction in oxygen levels in the blood, over time.

It’s called “silent” because you don’t realise that it’s happening and that is the really dangerous part. You might not feel short of breath at all and only show symptoms when you’re actually already in a critical condition. But, the pulse oximeter can tell you right away whether your oxygen saturation has fallen below 90% in which case you’re in a danger zone, and can move to access medical help right away. It’s actually life-saving to have access to a pulse oximeter during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially if you are high risk for severe illness from COVID 19, like my dad.

Discovery steps in and provides a pulse oximeter to Dewald’s father

My father, my sister and I are all Discovery Health Medical Scheme (DHMS) members. And, at around the same time as I had begun my search for a pulse oximeter, I found out that Discovery was sending pulse oximeters to those scheme members who fall into the high-risk category and who test positive for COVID-19.

  • If you are on a medical scheme administered by Discovery Health, you may have access to a pulse oximeter, as part of the WHO Global Outbreak benefit. If you meet the qualifying clinical entry criteria for at-risk members, Discovery will contact you and issue you with a pulse oximeter (one device for each family), through Discovery’s network provider, to track and monitor your oxygen saturation levels. You will also be covered for two consultations with a Discovery wellness specialist, to track and monitor oxygen-saturation levels, and a follow-up virtual consultation with a GP, where necessary. Find out more.

“Knowing that my dad’s oxygen levels were always above 90% was very reassuring”

So, Discovery sent this little device to my dad by courier within two days of his testing positive. He is on a KeyCare plan and the device was fully funded. Then a wellness specialist called to guide him through the correct process for using the device and my family helped him to use it.

Knowing that my dad’s oxygen levels were always above 90% was very reassuring. I felt so helpless sitting two kilometres away and chatting to the family and hearing “Dad isn’t doing much better today” or “He seems worse” or “Dad is vomiting today.” I’d immediately ask for the pulse oximeter readings and knowing his oxygen saturation was fine meant he wasn’t in the danger zone despite the fact that he was fighting off COVID-19. Discovery Health were also brilliant in following up on Dad. The dedicated Oximetry Support call centre kept in touch and asked for his readings too.

Thankfully he recovered. My brother needed hospitalisation and spent two weeks in a general COVID 19 ward but thankfully he has also recovered. Now the whole family is fine. What a journey!

Dewald shares what he has learned about COVID-19 through his family’s ordeal

Having been through all this with my father, I’ve had a lot of time to think about what the pandemic is teaching us. I really think our Minister of Health’s message to always “listen to the experts” rings true for me.

My advice to others, especially those who have high-risk family members, is:

  • To please stay at home as much as possible and limit interaction with others
  • Wear your face mask when you have to go out or when interacting with others outside of the home
  • Maintain physical distancing
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • We all miss our loved ones, but don’t underestimate the impact of what seem like harmless get-togethers or socialising with friends and family. You need to think about those who are at high risk of severe illness, and we need to do all we can to make sure they stay safe along with everyone else. And, there are also cases of young and healthy people contracting COVID 19 and experiencing serious illness, so this disease is quite unpredictable at times.

Take care and stay safe, everyone. And, thanks to Discovery for all the support!


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