Exercise rider Khayalethu Eric Jeyu was approaching a one-month holiday in his native South Africa from his job at Busan Race Park in South Korea when he began to experience severe headaches.
During April, the pain grew daily for a couple of weeks until Jeyu, known as Eric to his co-workers, could no longer cope. A Korean Racing Authority ambulance at the racetrack rushed Jeyu to the hospital where an MRI examination revealed a six-centimeter tumor in the back of his head and two other tumors in different locations. If he had not gone to the hospital and had boarded a plane for South Africa instead, doctors told him he may not have survived the flight. As it was, Jeyu required emergency surgery. With it, even under the hospital's care, he was not likely to live past a week.
Brain surgery is very expensive and something a racetracker like Jeyu could not afford. He is one of 11 foreign riders, almost all of them from South Africa or Zimbabwe, working at the KRA's Busan Race Park. Jeyu provides most of the financial support for a large family—his parents, wife, and three children. The KRA has courted workers like Jeyu because of his 20 years of experience in horse racing, and Jeyu was attracted to South Korea because of its good working conditions and better pay. He began working at Busan in March 2010.
Now Jeyu, 42, faced losing it all.
The KRA, the sole racing authority in South Korea, supports community charities as part of its mission so it immediately stepped up to help one of its own. The racing authority agreed to pay for Jeyu's surgery.
The same day as his diagnosis, Jeyu was scheduled for surgery. During five hours on the operating table, doctors successfully removed all the tumors in Jeyu's brain. The rider spent five days in the intensive care unit and required another month in the hospital.
Recognizing the financial burdens Jeyu would face with additional hospital bills and no income to send back home, racetrack executives and employees started a fundraising campaign that collected more than $11,700 on the rider's behalf. The money raised has covered all medical expenses and provided enough left over to continue providing support to his family back home.
"I am feeling much better and will return next week to South Africa where I will spend time with my family and hopefully I will soon be fully recovered," Jeyu said. "It was a very worrying time for my wife and children also, and so on behalf of myself and my family, we thank the trainers, jockeys, stable staff, and all of the KRA staff very much.
"Your kindness, and generosity that you gave to me in my time of need, is something that touched me deeply and you will be in my heart forever. You came together and helped me out as one of your family," he said.