Young woman the beats odds FAS stacked against her

Nicky turned 21 this year.

Nicky* (not her real name) recently turned 21 – milestone for the young woman who had the odds stacked against her from birth, writes ANN SCHOLTZ…

At a mere two weeks old she was hospitalised for having too much alcohol in her blood when her mom left her with neat alcohol in her bottle.

Read more: Focus on FASD.

At the age of six, she fell off the first floor balcony of their home and landed on her head.

“At Louis Leipold Hospital the doctors told me to go home as there was nothing they could do for her because of bleeding on the brain,” says Karen* (not her real name), who adopted the infant suffering from alcohol withdrawal.

“’She was in a coma and a week later, she walked out of that hospital without a scratch. At seven an old piano fell on her and her arm was completely smashed and again she came through it.”

Karen has nothing but praise for the young woman Nicky has become and continues to be amazed by her.

“She has survived never knowing her biological mom, finding biological brother and then walking away when she felt it wasn’t worth pursuing that relationship as he too ended up an alcoholic.

“Nicky was broken when my marriage fell apart, but she survived when the very family she felt safe with was taken away from her. She has shown a resilience second to none and her wisdom goes beyond any FAS (foetal alcohol syndrome) child I have ever known,” says Karen.

Nicky has excelled at playing the piano, obtaining provincial colours in karate and wrestling, has participated in a number of dance competitions and was a bridesmaid for her older sister recently.

She currently holds down a job as a shop assistant.

“She recently told me she needs to do something with more of a challenge. This is the same child doctors and psychologists didn’t think would make it beyond high school. She is mature and wise beyond her years. She’s able to give advice to those younger than her.”

Karen admits she almost believed the limitations others had placed on her daughter.

“I remember the first doctor who examined her asked her what she wanted to become and when she answered a nurse, he said to me the damage was so huge that she probably would never be more than a nurse’s aide.

“He was wrong and I’ve learned we should never impose those kind of limitations on any child. She has learnt to play the piano, she does hip hop dancing and she loves it. She is a role model for the other child being fostered in our home.”

Karen and Nicky say the internationally commemorated Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD) Day on September 9 annually have little significance in their lives.

“As it is with all vulnerable children, I believe there shouldn’t just be one day that is highlighted.

“Every single day must be a stand against moms drinking while pregnant, against child abuse or put at risk in any way. As it is, not enough is being done.

“There seems to be a small group of people who are fighting really hard to curb this and the funding just isn’t there to spread the reach. There are amazing organisations working in this sphere such as Foundation for Alcohol Related Research (FARR) and more can be done if there was enough funding,” says Karen.

Nicky also believes in the importance of raising awareness around FASD and on more than just the one day.

“My mother raised me as a normal kid, so growing up wasn’t more difficult than that of any other child. However, mothers-to-be should know their actions today, will be their responsibility tomorrow. Whatever decision you make, be prepared to accept the consequences.”

Turning 21 was a blessing, but so is each day, she says.

“My plans are to become a manager of a company that will give others skills, resources and opportunities that aren’t easily accessible and create a space for people to grow and move freely within their workplace.”

Karen and Nicky are hoping to become involved in a programme with adolescents who were born to alcoholic mothers and how best to support them.

“We are doing an ambassadors programme through the Chaeli Campaign with Mariette Hattingh, gastronomy lecturer, lifestyle coach and mental health promoter. I hope that once we’ve completed it, Nicky will step up to the plate, and with my assistance, start a FAS support group for her peers,” says Karen.

Her advice to parents or foster parents of children with FAS is simple.

“Treat the child with FAS like you would treat any child. Have the same expectations as you have for your own child, nothing more and nothing less.”

The Foundation for Alcohol Related Research

FARR was founded in 1997, provides support to pregnant women at its project sites and has a private clinic at its head office in Bellville where the organisation offers full medical, psychometric and counselling services.

FARR is dedicated to building positive futures in South African communities by significantly reducing birth defects and mental disabilities caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

For further information, email call 021 686 2646 or visit their website at