Role reversal for financial adviser, Claire, as her heart illness sees her relying on the Discovery products she normally sells
Claire van Wyk is a top financial adviser for Discovery. When she unexpectedly fell seriously ill in December 2021, she found herself relying heavily on the Discovery products she normally recommends to her clients.
Claire van Wyk is a healthy, energetic 47-year-old who loves exercising. It was while on a camping trip with her husband and three children in December 2021 that she started feeling very sick.
"During the holiday, I developed sinobronchitis. Every afternoon I wanted to sleep because I was so tired and I didn't feel any better when I woke up," says Claire. "I struggled to walk 50 metres without feeling like I was going to pass out. That says a lot because I'm a very active person. I take my spinning bike on camping holidays with me. My biggest jewellery asset is my fitness watch."
"They couldn't stabilise my oxygen"
In January, after an unrelated visit to her gynaecologist, Claire had her uterine lining biopsied when a fibroid was found. "After the biopsy they couldn't stabilise my oxygen. That started the whole process of trying to figure out what was really wrong with me."
"I was already in hospital, so they took me to the pulmonologist who gave me more medicine and sent me to get a wearable Holter ECG monitor."
- An electrocardiogram (or ECG) records the electrical signals in the heart to detect heart problems and monitor the heart's health.
"Around 10 days later, I was readmitted to hospital. The physicians at the hospital did another ECG because my chest was burning like fire and my breathing was poor." "A few days after I was discharged, the doctors phoned to tell me that based on the results of the ECGs there was a problem with my heart! Because I was healthy overall, they still didn't know what exactly was causing the heart trouble."
"I thought I was dying"
A few days later, Claire had to leave a client meeting early when she started feeling very ill. "I pulled over to the side of the road. I thought I was dying. There wasn't just one symptom - it was a collision of so many things, from dizziness to nausea, chest pain, and a real sense of dread."
"My car is insured with Discovery Insure and there's a tracker in it, so I knew that if something happened to me, my family would be able to find me. I was so grateful to be driving behind a slow truck until I got to the right offramp."
Claire lands in ICU
At the hospital, doctors conducted an ECG and echocardiogram on Claire. "They immediately admitted me into ICU because it looked like I had atrial fibrillation," she says, recalling her ordeal.
- An echocardiogram monitors heart rhythm and how the blood moves through the heart. It is used to diagnose heart conditions.
- Atrial fibrillation is an irregular and often very rapid heart rhythm. It can lead to blood clots in the heart and increases the risk of stroke, heart failure and other complications.
"Luckily they could admit me into ICU without having to wait. I'd like to believe it's because I'm a Discovery Health Medical Scheme member. While I was in the ward, I could hear relatives of patients arguing with other medical aids over the phone, struggling to get authorisation. It was so traumatising to hear the desperation in these people's voices. In that moment I felt so grateful to be a Discovery Health member."
"I was desperate for a diagnosis"
Over the next months, Claire would be admitted to hospital and ICU many times, as doctors worked to figure out what was causing her illness. "During one of my hospitalisations, I sent all my passwords to my dad because I didn't know if I would make it. My heart rate would shoot up, I was breathless and nauseous, and at some stage my blood pressure was high. I felt like my body was about to crack open."
"By then, I was so desperate to have a diagnosis so that doctors would know what to do to make me feel better."
"I told them: 'It's not fair. I don't smoke or drink. I eat right. I'm fit. So why am I not getting better?' And the doctor said: 'You should be asking where you'd be if you did the opposite. You'd be much worse off."
Claire is diagnosed with myocarditis
"In June 2021, six months after I first got sick, I was told that I have myocarditis. Apparently, myocarditis is quite rare and, in my case, it was hard to diagnose because most of the time the symptoms weren't obvious."
- Myocarditis is inflammation of the middle layer of the heart wall, usually caused by a virus. It can weaken the heart and lead to heart failure, abnormal heartbeat and death.
"Up until that point, doctors had told me to continue with moderate exercise. That really scares me because with myocarditis you are not supposed to elevate your heart rate at all, to allow it to heal."
More conditions emerge, and Claire finally gets answers
Despite being on medication to treat the myocarditis, Claire landed up in ICU again in September. This time, doctors found that she had a myocardial heart bridge - a malformation in the heart. This causes a coronary artery spasm, which caused intense chest pain for Claire.
"Doctors also discovered that I have an autoimmune or connective tissue disease, which may have been the aggravator in all of this. So the myocarditis, myocardial heart bridge and heart spasms together cause potentially lethal arrythmia. Finally, we were on the right course to managing all these conditions."
"If your body is telling you that you're sick, you need to listen to it and get help"
"One of the things I've learnt through all of this is, unless you look like you're dying, people don't take you seriously. If your body is telling you that you're sick, you need to listen to it, and persist until you get the help you need."
"This is where Vitality comes in too. Vitality teaches you to keep in touch with your body. It teaches you what you feel like when you're healthy and what you feel like when you're not."
My son thought I was going to die
"My sickness has been very difficult for my family. On one occasion my eldest daughter, who is studying nursing, had to rush me to the emergency room."
"It's affected my youngest, my seven-year-old son, the most. One morning during breakfast he brought all his balls - soccer balls, rugby balls, everything, to me. He told me we could sell them if we needed money to buy food. That's when it hit me that he thought I was going to die."
"It's really hard, because I always tried to hold it together, but in the meantime I'd be falling apart inside. My family's fears around losing me were huge."
"I get emotional thinking how powerful Discovery's products are"
"The 12 specialists that I've seen throughout my illness have been incredible. And Discovery Health has been phenomenal. I've had everything from brain scans to X-rays, a doppler of my arteries, a heart MRI, angiograms, ECGs and blood tests like you cannot believe, and they've paid for most of it."
"My Discovery gap cover kicked in when specialists in hospital charged more than the Discovery Health rate. Knowing the medical expenses are covered is such a relief."
"I also received a dreaded disease payment from Discovery Life Insurance. And I even used Apple Pay on my phone - a benefit of being with Discovery Bank - to buy food in the hospital restaurant when I was tired of hospital food!"
"As a financial adviser for Discovery, I help people with our products all the time. But now I can testify to what Discovery's products have done for me. This experience has made me more aware of how vulnerable we are. It's incredibly comforting to know that there are products out there to cushion the blow when you are faced with life-threatening illness."
37-year-old Rakesh Mithal was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in January 2020. He has since made every effort to live more healthily and prevent the progress of the disease. Joining the Discovery Health Diabetes Care Programme has ensured he and his doctor work in partnership to manage his condition.
Merlin Naidoo has been a Discovery Health Medical Scheme member for the past nine years. All was going well until 2014, when he learned that he had developed a chronic condition: type 2 diabetes.
Ensuring good quality of life for people who live with diabetes is key for general practitioner (GP) Dr Christel Olivier. She works towards this goal with the support of the Diabetes Care Programme and the team of health professionals she works with at her practice.