Updated 21 December 2017

‘I was told I’d be paralysed and never conceive, but I proved doctors wrong!’

She was an avid sportswoman during her high school years.

When she finally heard what her diagnosis is, an unexplainable feeling of shock came over her.

Maxzell Lerm Van Jaarsveldt (then 19 at the time) was a budding sportswoman, an aspiring model and had her whole life ahead of her. Now, her life would forever be changed by a painful disease called Ankylosing spondylitis.

“I remember thinking, ‘I have an identical twin sister. Why is there nothing wrong with her?’” Maxzell, now 29, remembers.

Ankylosing spondylitis (also called Bechterew's disease) is an inflammatory disease that affects the spine and large joints. Sufferers tend to experience such severe pain, they’re unable to perform most day-to-day activities and sometimes even end up having to use a wheelchair.

“My pain started when I was 18 but only really began flaring up at 19. It became so bad I was told to abandon all activity,” explains Maxzell.

She was an avid sportswoman during her high school years, playing on the first tennis team and participating in Boland hockey.

But when the pain in Maxzell’s joints intensified, she had no other option but to bow out.

The beautiful blonde, who’s just become mom, speaks fondly of her years growing up.

Born to Henri (65) and Maxie Lerm (62), Maxzell was one of five kids – three boys and two girls.

“Our brothers were always up to mischief, so the girls were sort of forced to join in on their games. We had a lot of fun growing up. Our family was very close.”

The Lerm couple and their kids – Clinton (41), Dillon (36), Timo (18) and Maxzell’s twin sister, Mirrell (29) – lived in Bloemfontein before moving to Hermanus.

“My parents were in politics. My dad was the mayor of Bloem,” explains Maxzell, who attended Eunice High School in Bloemfontein before switching to Hermanus High School after the family’s relocation.

Her parents left the world of politics to open their own hotel, called the Misty Waves Boutique Hotel, now one of the best accommodation spots in scenic Hermanus.

Maxzell’s teen years were going well when suddenly, at age 18, she experienced a terrible pain in her knees.

Her parents took her to specialist after specialist, only for each to tell her a different story.

“The one told me it is growth pains. Another said it’s a problem in my back. Then I was told it’s because my one leg is longer than the other, so I needed soles for my shoes.”

But neither ‘diagnosis’ deemed true, because eventually Maxzell’s pain transcended from her knees to her shoulders and became increasingly bad, till it resonated throughout her entire body.

“I was in so much pain, I couldn’t tie my hair or get dressed. My mother had to help me.”

After visiting seven different specialists, without any sufficient help, Maxzell came across Professor Helmuth Reuter, a rheumatologist based in Stellenbosch.

“I was with him for hardly five minutes and he my changed my life. He looked at me, felt certain points on my body and told me what was wrong with me. I had Ankylosing spondylitis.

“My first reaction was shock. Then denial,” says Maxzell.

“I thought it would pass, you know, like the flu. But it never did, it only got worse.”

Maxzell did not initially realise what impact the disease would have on her life.

She was warned she could end up in a wheelchair at 30 and would most likely never be able to have kids.

Maxzell was put on very strong medication. Every six weeks she had to receive a drip which R30 000 per session. The medication she received also made her hair and eyelashes fall out, every woman’s worst nightmare.

Because of the effect the disease had on her skin, Maxzell was put on cortisone, which made her skin so thin, her pores often bled simply by washing herself.

Even though the drugs helped alleviate the pain, it weakened her immune system.

“Whatever sickness a normal person would get, Maxzell would get it ten times worse,” says Christo, Maxzell’s loving husband.

The two met eight years ago and Christo had a tough time wooing his lovely lady at first. 

“Listen, it took me eight months to get her to be my girlfriend. Eight months of driving from Cape Town to Hermanus! She just didn’t want to commit,” he says laughing.

“I felt insecure,” Maxzell interjects. “I didn’t think he was going to last. But my mom eventually said, look, this one is not going anywhere!”

“How can you not want to support this beautiful woman?” Christo quips when asked what his reaction was to his then-girlfriend’s incurable disease.

The couple have been married for three years and just recently welcomed a healthy little boy, whom they consider their miracle baby.

After three miscarriages, Maxzell nearly gave up hope of ever conceiving. But just sixth months after her last miscarriage, she discovered she was pregnant for the fourth time in February this year.

On 15 November at 1.30 pm, the couple welcomed Dantó van Jaarsveldt. 

For the last seven years, the beaming mother has been on an injection, which she takes every two weeks. Maxzell made the switch after three years on the drip.

The family of three have also made the conscious decision to lead a healthier lifestyle, something they believe has added to Maxzell’s health.

Besides taking care of her tiny tot, Maxzell has taken to writing and published her first book this year called, Nevrhada: Unveiling Secrets.

She was recently awarded the Kraak Writing Grant for 2017. Under the grant, she will receive mentoring and ‘intensive coaching from an expert’ in the writing field.

“I am very excited about the award,” Maxzell says.

“Writing makes me happy.”