After a car accident left him with 10 broken ribs, a bleeding brain and severe injuries to the heart and lungs, doctors didn’t expect Nico Strydom to live. But Nico did more than just survive – he’s thriving. 

“I was 23 years old when the accident happened. After I left hospital, I would listen to my friends laughing and joking, and I simply couldn’t join in – I felt like I had aged 10 years and was no longer part of their world,” says Nico Strydom.

That’s not surprising: just months earlier, he had been lying in a hospital in a coma that had rendered him all but non-responsive. “I remember waking up from the coma with my brother-in-law sitting on one side of me, and my mother and sister on the other. My face was completely fractured, and I could see out of only one of my eyes. I was hooked up to a lung machine, and I had no idea what had happened.” 

Mediclinic Sandton

What had happened, in fact, was that Nico had been rushed to Mediclinic Sandton after a car travelling at 180km/hour hit him from behind, the impact flinging him 90m from his own vehicle. Nico had been in death’s grip since that moment of impact: he had been resuscitated twice at the scene of the accident, once in the helicopter while being airlifted to hospital, and once again in hospital. “The doctors believed there was no hope,” he recalls. It was only when one of the doctors treating him heard him trying to gasp for air – against all odds, as both lungs had popped, and he was flatlining – that the medical team realised he was not yet ready to give up. 

“I felt like I had aged 10 years and was no longer part of their world.”

Nico Strydom

The days that followed were tortuous for Nico’s family. The air escaping from his lungs had forced the membrane surrounding his heart to blow up like a balloon without a knot – a condition which only two other people have survived. His coma was ranked 2 on the Glasgow Coma Scale (the second most severe score), and he remained unconscious for 12 days.  

Nico Strydom

Nico attributes the fact that he awoke – like so many other aspects of his recovery – to God. “I was scheduled to have a tracheostomy the day before I woke up, which would have ruined my singing career because my vocal cords would have been severed. I refused the operation – just like I refused to lie in bed, hooked up to the various pipes.” In fact, it was after he ripped out the pipes connecting him to the lung machine that Nico’s heart began to pump normally for the very first time. Shortly after that, he insisted on getting out of bed and walking around – which is when his medical team discovered that his pelvis had been broken in four places. 

Even so, Nico was determined to return home – against the advice of his medical team. “My neurosurgeon, Dr George Zwonnikoff, told my mother that my brain injuries meant I was likely to have problems with managing my emotions, and my sense of reality may be affected.” He’d been told that a stint in rehab was in order – and yet, 16 days after the accident (rather than the six months that had been advised by the team), Nico went home. 

He admits that readjusting to real life wasn’t always easy – but he found a sense of peace from the emotional upheaval that marked many of his days when he testified in church. That, he believes, set him on his current path: having sold the framing business he’d established and run successfully for several years before the accident, Nico has dedicated himself to working as a gospel singer and minister. Now married with two children, he is excited to return to South Africa after a 15-month sojourn ministering in Florida, USA. 

Nico Strydom, his wife Gina Biallo and their child Alliandra Strydom.

Dr Zwonnikoff, who played an instrumental role in saving Nico’s life, says it’s exciting to hear he is living a full and happy life. “His injuries were truly horrific: both hemispheres of his brain were bleeding severely, and we had to perform craniotomies to remove bone fragments on both sides. It was only because we were able to get him into surgery so soon after the accident that he survived.” 

Dr Zwonnikoff reports that only a small number of people who experience injuries of this nature are likely to make a full recovery. “It’s these people who keep us going. As Hippocrates said, ‘No head injury is too trivial to be ignored, nor so severe that we give up hope.’” 

Images: Supplied

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