Johannesburg – In her dying moments, Ontlametse Phalatse told the taxi driver that she was struggling to breathe, and that he should please hurry home.
“Ou bhuti, I am struggling to breathe,” she said cowering into a kneeling position.
She had gone to town with her mom, Bella Phalatse, to fetch a tailor-made outfit that she was supposed to wear on Wednesday night at President Jacob Zuma’s 75th birthday party, where she was a special guest.
Unfortunately, Phalatse did not make it to the celebrations. She succumbed to lung failure.
Her heart had already stopped twice and there was nothing more doctors could do when her heart stopped for the third time on Tuesday night.
Phalatse was one of two South Africans who suffered from progeria, a rare disease which causes premature ageing.
She was the only black person in the world to suffer from the rare disease.
Sitting under a guava tree at their modest home in Hebron in the North West province, her aunt Maureen Moropa, who shared a special relationship with the 18-year-old, said when Phalatse was born she looked okay, like any other baby.
In the days leading to Phalatse’s birth her mother, Bella Phalatse, frequented Odi District Hospital in Tsebe, North West because she was suffering from high blood pressure.
“She stayed at the hospital for some time before giving birth. The day she gave birth the baby looked okay, she even grew up to use a walking ring. We did not immediately know that the child was suffering from progeria.”
‘She was not growing well’
Initially, the family was told that Phalatse had a skin problem.
“It went on and on. When I asked her mother, she said she noticed a small mark on the skin and then her skin became dark in complexion but she was still a bubbly person.”
Phalatse never had speech or walking problems.
“We discovered between 2008 and 2010 that she was not normal, she was not growing well.”
The family was devastated as they had never heard of such a disease and no one in the family had it prior to Phalatse.
Phalatse’s mother went into a state of depression after doctors finally diagnosed her daughter with the rare disease.
“She was a weak child, although she has always been outspoken, she was not a healthy child. It was frustrating, if it was not diarrhoea, it would be flu, she was suffering and we were always diagnosing her with different illnesses.”
She was so tiny that her mother had to carry her school bags for her because they were too heavy, Moropa said.
Phalatse attended Lerato Primary School and matriculated at St Dominican Convent School in Johannesburg in 2016.
While growing up she had dreams of becoming a psychologist because she wanted to help people.
‘I must enjoy everything to the last’
“She wanted to help people suffering from all sorts of problems, not just progeria. She used to say people are hiding in their houses, she wanted to come out and say, ‘Guys look at me, I can be whatever’.”
Moropa chuckles when she recalls how Phalatse changed her mind wanting to then become a motivational speaker.
“Last year after she matriculated we spoke about school, I reminded her that she wanted to be a psychologist and I asked her if she had applied and she said no. I told her to go to UNISA and she said ‘Nahhh aunty, I am not going there, sorry’.
“She said remember, aunty, that my lifespan is very short. I must enjoy everything to the last. One thing about Ontlametse is that she knew and accepted that she would not live long.” – News24