A bottom of a pool taken by a waterproof camera

From heart surgery to swim star: Baby Rose’s aquatic triumph

Rose, a South African baby who survived a delicate open-heart surgical procedure when she was just 11 weeks old, has taken to the water in an inspiring story of resilience and the life-changing power of swimming.

Defying the odds, Rose began her journey with Virgin Active’s Learn to Swim programme at the tender age of 4-and-a-half months, despite the challenges associated with her rare medical condition.

Her parents, Roger and Louise, ardent fans of Olympian swimmers Minke Janse van Rensburg and Chad le Clos, turned to aquatic therapy to aid Rose’s physical development, especially since she couldn’t engage in traditional ‘tummy time’ post-surgery. 

Tummy time – time spent playing on the belly, with their heads upright – is vital for any baby’s development. It’s the only form of exercise that very young babies can practise, and is essential for their overall physical growth, ensuring healthy development of babies’ neck, shoulder and arm muscles. It also helps them learn spatial awareness, visual co-ordination and motor skills.

Tummy time is the closest tiny babies get to engaging with the world ‘horizontally’ as we adults do. It’s a key developmental step that paves the way for sitting up, crawling and eventually walking.

Also, to prevent flat spots on the back of the head, it’s vital that infants aren’t lying down on their backs all the time.

All of this can be difficult for babies who’ve had to undergo various surgical procedures on their chest or stomach, like Baby Rose who was unable to lie on her stomach for a long time following the lifesaving heart surgery.

Much to Roger and Louise’s relief (and delight!), the water gave Rose the environment she needed to move around freely without discomfort. The aquatic therapy catalysed her physical growth and muscle tone development, thereby minimising any post-surgery developmental delays.

Virgin Active children’s swimming instructor Elmarie Nel also played a pivotal role in Rose’s progress. Elmarie’s sensitivity in tailoring methods and activities saw her adapting swim holds so as not to apply any pressure on the rib cage. Her innovative approaches and caring rapport ensured Rose’s comfort, safety and enjoyment, ultimately allowing her to thrive in the water.

Rose’s infectious enthusiasm and the special bond she shares with her instructor light up the swim sessions with joy and laughter.

Her love for the water and her strength were evident from the start, and her parents were enthused. “If Rose could talk, I am sure she would tell us that swimming with Elmarie is the highlight of her week.

“We didn’t realise that learning to swim would be so beneficial, both physically and emotionally, and great fun at the same time. We can see such huge developments in her confidence, in and out of the water.”

Although they must learn slowly via ‘baby steps’, most babies are born with an instinctive swimming or diving reflex, hence the term ‘water babies’. It’s an innate ability that lasts until around 6 months old, which older children and adults don’t have.

Rose’s parents have become vocal proponents for making sure every child in South Africa can swim. With Learn to Swim classes available to aspiring swimmers of any age at clubs around the country, it’s never too early to start your kids on swimming.

Swimming is a key life skill, and important for overall safety in various water-based scenarios. Yet, only about 15% of South Africans can. Drowning is one of the most common causes of unnatural deaths worldwide, and in SA an average of 450 young people lose their lives to drowning each year, with babies and toddlers under 4 bearing the highest risk. 

Rose’s journey from a heart surgery survivor to a buoyant swim star is a profound testament to the power of hope and resilience. Her heartwarming tale underscores the powerful impact of swimming and aquatic therapy, which have been instrumental in helping Rose recover, and ultimately blossom, against all the odds, into a happy, healthy toddler.

Her infectious joy and indefatigable spirit are inspirational. The ripples of her laughter and the splashes of her tiny hands are a vivid reminder that there is always hope, even in the darkest moments of despair.

Looking ahead, Roger and Louise wonder whether little Rose will develop a lifelong love for swimming, and perhaps even follow in the footsteps of their swimming heroes Minke and Chad…

Image credit: tirachard/Freepik

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