31 October 2018

'I was pronounced dead at the scene of my accident – but I wasn’t'

Cesaltina da Cunha had no heartbeat or pulse and had stopped breathing.

How’s this for a near death experience: A car accident left 48-year-old Cesaltina da Cunha medically dead at the scene, but miraculously, she lived to tell the tale…

I had just dropped my youngest child at school in May 2009 and was on my way to work our three horses in Krugersdorp, where I live. I was driving at 112km/hour when a reckless driver jumped a stop street and smashed into my vehicle on the driver’s side. The chassis folded in two and I was trapped in the passenger seat, where the impact had shifted me.

Read more: “I felt completely normal, but my blood pressure was through the roof”

Cesaltina’s ‘death’

My only visible injury was a long jagged cut from my right cheek to my ear, but I had no heartbeat or pulse and had stopped breathing. I was pronounced dead.

At school, my daughter somehow sensed something was wrong and started to pray for me. After some time, the paramedics managed to get a pulse, stabilised me and I was taken to hospital. My pelvis was fractured in four places on the right side. I had four broken ribs, a punctured lung, which had filled with fluid and, by the time I was wheeled into theatre, my chances of survival were slim.

Read more: “The drink spiker robbed me of my last memory with my dad”

And her recovery

I lay in hospital for 35 days waiting for my broken body to mend, followed by six months of intensive rehab – one leg was shorter than the other due to the way my pelvis had fractured. It was another nine months before I could walk without crutches.

At 48 I still did ballet and martial arts, trained horses and taught personal training. When the orthopaedic surgeon told me I would never be the same again, that I would have pain for the rest of my life and swimming would be my only exercise, I thanked him. I resolved to prove him wrong on all counts.

I’ve just turned 54 and I still teach personal training, do Ballet Barre and Tae Bo and I can still sail a catamaran in high-speed winds. The permanent scar across my cheek reminds me of that almost-fateful day. Pain is my daily validation that I’m stronger than what happened to me. It’s a miracle that I survived and I know I was given a second chance to be the person I was meant to be, to be there for my children and to live my best life.

Read more: “These 7 simple yoga stretches got me walking again after a stroke”

Tips from arrive alive

1. Get enough rest. Being sleepy behind the wheel is just as dangerous as driving drunk.

2. Time your drive. Accidents occur most frequently at closing time for bars and clubs.

3. Wear. Your. Seatbelt. A mere 40% of South Africans buckle up, yet research shows it reduces your chance of death or serious injury in a car crash by 75%.

4. Be seen. Drive with your lights on, even in daylight.

5. Save this ER number to your phone: 084 124.

This article was originally published on

Image credit: iStock