ANNA COX

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THEY are bedridden and confined to bleak and dingy surroundings in dilapidated houses.

Two Alexandra women suffering from elephantiasis – a vivid and accurate term for the syndrome it describes – have spent 12 and 18 years respectively in one-room homes filled with relatives, unable to get off their beds.

Both have been in hospital several times, but have been told that doctors were unable to treat them. So they lie in bed watching their legs getting bigger by the day and becoming more and more inactive.

Ester Ntshalintshali is 69.

She is more fortunate than Sibongile Zulu, who lives down the road from her in Extension 7. She was found by Robbie Senoelo, a Government Communication and Information System officer based in Alex.

He alerted community leader Linda Twala, who arranged for her to be taken to Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, where she was put under observation a few weeks ago.

It took 14 emergency management officers to lift her in and out of the ambulance. She was sent home, and told to lose weight and to return in October.

Twala, with the help of Afrika Tikkun, a Jewish NGO that operates in Alex, managed to get her a new bed, donated by Ellerines. Because of her weight, her old one was being propped up with bricks.

Yesterday, Emergency Management Services (EMS) staff once again arrived at Ntshalintshali’s Tsutsumani home in two fire engines and an ambulance. It took a number of paramedics to lift her off her bed, remove the old one from under her and put the new bed in. Because she is too big to fit onto a stretcher and cannot walk, the EMS staff had to lift her on the mattress, place her on the floor, then roll her onto the new bed.

When she was finally settled, she smiled and wiped a tear from her eye and stretched out to hug people one by one.

“I am so grateful that there are people who care about me. I never knew people of Alex cared about other people. I am grateful to be alive,” she said.

Twala said he would be sending his youth volunteers to her house to paint the badly deteriorating dwelling.

“We also want to break a wall in her bedroom and put a sliding door in so that she can be carried easily. The family live on grants. There are six of them living there. They need a new fridge, stove, clothes and food, and anyone who can offer her medical attention.”

Another NGO, Maningi Matters, had donated R10 000 towards it, he said.

Residents then told The Star there was another woman, just 2km away, who was also bedridden with elephantiasis and who was getting no assistance.

Sibongile Zulu is 52 and has been in bed for 18 years.

Her daughter, Mbali Zulu, said

: “Life is difficult for us. We have to take care of her 24 hours a day. Volunteers come in and help bathe her, but she is always in pain,” she said.

If you can help, phone Twala on 082 442 2866.