Grateful for every step – Gavi reflects on a miracle
A year ago, sporty, fun-loving Johannesburg teenager Gavi Waksman remembers watching Formula 1 Grand Prix on television in the lounge after completing his homework. He recalls looking forward to participating in the cross-country athletics meeting for his school, King David High School Linksfield, the following day in Boksburg.
That’s all he remembers of that calamitous week in early May in which he mysteriously collapsed, unconscious and unresponsive, in front of spectators gathered at the athletics stadium.
It took doctors weeks following multiple tests and consultations to ascertain the cause – myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle. There was no warning.
For days, Gavi, 18, lay asleep on a ventilator in Life The Glynnwood Medical Centre in Benoni – 30km from home – totally oblivious to the impact his medical emergency had sparked in the community. A rolling, unending, spiritual movement had gripped the Johannesburg Jewish community, spreading near and far.
There was an unprecedented wave of support in the form of immeasurable good deeds, charity initiatives, prayer sessions, and uncountable WhatsApp tehillim groups set up in his name for his complete and speedy recovery. To this day, people still pray for him.
This week marks exactly a year since Gavi’s life was interrupted.
“It has been a whirlwind,” said his mother, Lauren, “Surreal – a total emotional rollercoaster.”
Gavi is back at school and is slowly finding his feet and getting used to the “new normal”. Things aren’t the same as before, but he has come a long way, say his family.
“It’s a miracle he’s here, with a smile on his face, and this is the main thing. We’re eternally grateful and truly blessed,” said Lauren.
The family isn’t dwelling on what caused the myocarditis, instead focusing its attention on his recovery.
“We have to move forward,” said Lauren.
Doctors were initially flummoxed about what had caused the young, healthy boy to collapse. He underwent multiple procedures, from blood and imaging tests, electrocardiograms, chest x-rays, and a heart MRI to ascertain the cause. There seemed to be nothing conclusive – and still he lay asleep. His loving parents, Larry and Lauren, and his siblings, Benjamin, 14, and Eliana, seven, as well as close family and friends, waited with bated breath for signs of Gavi’s return to the world. It was agonising.
“When he finally opened his eyes for the first time in five days, I was beside myself with gratitude,” said Lauren.
Gavi had experienced a traumatic brain injury following his collapse, and the road ahead was going to be fraught with fear and uncertainty. He had lost his short-term memory.
“At first, he couldn’t even remember what he’d eaten for breakfast, he had to learn how to eat and talk,” said Lauren.
After a short while, Gavi was moved closer to Johannesburg to the Rosebank Clinic, which made things a little easier for the observant Johannesburg-based family. During that time, friends and members of the community arranged for Lauren to stay nearby the hospital so she could be with her son over Shabbos and Shavuot. “The community basically helped with everything – kids’ snacks for school, lifts, meals, you name it,” Lauren said.
After more than a month in hospital, Gavi was able to go home to the relief of his parents.
About four months later, Gavi visited his school to much fanfare, and later attended school for a few hours at a stretch. He went back full time in January 2023 to do Grade 11 while his peers went onto matric.
“It’s challenging on many levels, socially, academically, and mentally. We want everything to happen so quickly, but we’ve learnt these things take endless time and patience, and we’re amazed at how far he has come,” said Lauren.
“We’re so proud of his positive, can-do attitude. He just gets on with life regardless of the challenges,” she said. We see it as a miracle that he’s here, that he has a smile on his face, and that the incident happened in front of people and there was an ambulance at the ready and immediate medical intervention,” she said.
“Our lives have changed. Gavi was so independent, everything came easily to him. Fortunately, he has a special way of looking at life, and this has helped him to take things in his stride. He tries his best even though things may be hard. He shows resilience and courage. We’re grateful to Hashem for every day of life,” she said.
Gavi told the SA Jewish Report that after gaining consciousness, “It took a while for everything to sink in, to grasp what had happened, to fully understand. It was hard to believe what I’d been through, and to take in how serious the injury was.”
“I know I’ve done well to get to where I am, but at the same time I know I have a way to go,” he said.
“My day-to-day life has changed. I can’t play as much sport as before. Physically I feel strong, like I can pick up from where I left off, but realistically I know I can’t, and this can be frustrating. I remain hopeful that with time and patience, things will improve.”
He said the hardest thing he had to face was losing his short-term memory. “I write in a diary every day to remind myself what I have done and what I need to do. If I don’t do this, I may forget something, like my homework.
“I’m ok with it because I know things could have been a lot worse, so I’m grateful for the way things are and will try my best to improve,” he said.
He had an implantable loop recorder device inserted just below his heart that continually records his heartbeat, and wears a watch that monitors his heart rate.
“We take things day by day by putting one foot in front of the other. We don’t know what each day will bring, but we’re doing all that we can to face this together, with the loving support of an incredible community and the help of Hashem. Time, patience, emunah (faith), and gratitude will continue to get us through this,” said Lauren.