Making good headway after injuries

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Copy of ND BRAIN1 [1] INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS BRAVE: Tom Rout's dreams of becoming an actuary have been dashed as a result of a head injury. Pictures: Doctor Ngcobo

One minute you’ve got a future with hopes and dreams and minutes later you’re fighting for your life in intensive care.

“Things can change like that!” says Tom Rout, 21, clicking the fingers of his left hand – the only hand that has mobility.

Tom was a teenager with a bright future. He played rugby and squash at Kearsney College, enjoyed canoeing, was in the debating team, and with an impressive academic record, he planned to study actuarial science at university.

But a devastating car accident just before his 17th birthday changed all that.

Tom was in a coma for four months and his future looked bleak – but in January 2008, there was some startling progress.

His mother, Kathy, asked him if he liked her new shoes.

Copy of ND BRAIN3 SHARP: Stroke victim and businessman Malcolm Staniforth gets a hug from wife Jenny, who has become his carer. INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

“I expected no response, as usual, but he turned his head, looked down at my shoes and smiled,” she says. “I knew he had understood me.”

Slowly, Tom’s powers of comprehension and response improved. With severe loss of mobility and blindness in his right eye, he faced a long road of rehab.

Three months of intensive therapy in Life Entabeni Hospital’s rehabilitation unit followed, in which Tom learnt to move his limbs, turn over, sit and speak, albeit with slurred words.

He went back to school – to the Open Air School for the physically disabled and passed his matric last year, achieving 79 percent for maths.

“This year we are focusing on getting him as physically capable as possible,” says Kathy. “And we are hoping that he will be able to work in the future.”

Three days a week, Tom visits Headway, where he has group therapy, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and speech therapy.

Ramani Moodley, 23, also had her dreams shattered when she lost control of her car one night. It somersaulted and landed upside down, causing serious head injuries. She was rushed to hospital and spent a month in ICU.

“It was touch and go whether I would live,” she says.

The young candidate attorney, who graduated from the University of KwaZulu-Natal summa cum laude had moved to Johannesburg, joined a law firm and was doing a job she loved. But the accident affected her speech and the mobility in her right hand and leg. She spent six weeks in rehab, learning to speak and walk.

Ramani goes to Headway four times a week for therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

But she has a steely determination and has committed to getting back to her old life and her fiancé Preggie Subroyen.

“I have made very good progress. I want to drive again and go back to work – and I will achieve that.”

Malcolm Staniforth is a 65-year-old Durban North businessman who suffered a stroke at his desk early one morning.

“I could only see half of everything and I developed a bad headache,” he recalls. When he couldn’t reach for the telephone, his wife, Jenny, called the paramedics and he was taken to hospital.

The stroke affected Malcolm’s right side, his speech and his sight. He had months of rehab and now attends Headway for therapy several times a week.

It has completely changed the couple’s lives and their plans for retirement. They have had to adapt their house with wheelchair ramps, a disabled shower, and more, to accommodate Malcolm. Jenny, 60, has become a full-time carer and nurse, while juggling the demands of the business and their successful B&B, which they plan to sell. The couple have two supportive adult children, David Staniforth and Hayley Allen, and four grandchildren who brighten their lives. A friend Errol Wilson transports Malcolm to and from Headway. “The support is invaluable,” says Jenny.

Malcolm’s brain is sharp and he still participates in the business but he finds his limitations frustrating.

“Independence is the biggest loss,” he says. He has had four falls and overturned his wheelchair twice.

Ian Vowles, general manager of Headway, said head injuries devastated victims and families emotionally and often financially, too. Headway, a not-for-profit organisation, offers therapy to patients over 18 at reduced rates and support for patients and carers. Therapy is given by qualified physiotherapists, aquatherapists, a psychologist, occupational therapists, speech therapists and a dietitian.

The centre also offers respite care, daily programmes and outings.

“We get about six new patients a month and in the past two months there have been more stroke patients than accident victims,” he said. “There is a perception that strokes happen to old people but we have several patients in their 20s.” - Daily News

l Headway is located at 11 Menston Road, Westville. Call 031 266 2709/2713 or e-mail [email protected]

What is an acquired brain injury?

The word “acquired” is used to distinguish between injury to the brain which has existed since birth and injury to the brain that has been acquired as a result of trauma to the brain from a car, bike or pedestrian accident, or from strokes, meningitis and other causes.

What is a stroke?

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted by a clot or burst blood vessel. As it is not usually painful, patients may ignore the signs and not seek medical attention. However, a stroke is a medical emergency and if there are any of these warning signs, you need to act fast:

l Sudden weakness, numbness or tingling on one or both sides of the body.

l Sudden loss of speech, trouble speaking or understanding speech.

l Sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes or double vision.

l Sudden severe and unusual headache.

l Sudden unexplained dizziness, loss of balance, trouble with walking or sudden falls.

Risk factors you can’t change include age, family history and a previous stroke.

Risk factors you can change are high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol, obesity, inactivity, a high-sugar, high-fat diet with inadequate fruit and vegetables, uncontrolled diabetes, excessive alcohol intake, irregular heart beat and use of illicit drugs.

See www.heartfoundation.co.za

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