Emmanuel was a healthy young boy, attending primary school when he became severely ill. His condition was not correctly diagnosed until very late. He was shown to have TB Meningitis, and due to the late diagnosis and incorrect treatment at first, the boy suffered neurological complications as well as physical, and mental/cognitive regression. This led to severely physically and mentally challenges and Emmanuel was fully dependent on the nurses at the hospital where he was admitted, who had to do everything for him. He was immobile and rigid, could not move his hands, was unable to speak or communicate in any way and it even seemed like he was unable to comprehend and focus his eyes. Emmanuel was unable to swallow and received liquid feeds via a tube inserted through his abdomen into his stomach.
Because of fluid buildup around his brain due to the TB Meningitis, he started having seizures and the doctors were not hopeful that he would recover from the debilitating consequences. From being a healthy boy, Emmanuel was now profoundly disabled, most likely permanently.
Our multi-disciplinary team went to visit Emmanuel in the hospital before he was admitted to Give a Child a Family (GCF). The one thing we all remember from the visit is not the severity of his afflictions, but what we remember and talk about with fondness are his sparkling eyes (although they could not focus) and his big bright smile.
Once admitted to GCF, the TB treatment continued and medical check-ups were done. The seizures stopped, which was a great relief. Otherwise, Emmanuel’s physical and cognitive condition remained the same. All food was prepared in liquid form by our kitchen staff, such as porridge, vegetables, starch, protein and fruit and his childcare workers fed him via the abdominal feeding tube. Also at GCF, Emmanuel was fully dependent and could not do anything for himself. He received lots of love and affection and was integrated with the other abled body children in the nursery.
With the correct internal and external interventions and devoted care, he slowly but surely started to mobilize. Within a few weeks, we witnessed a remarkable change in Emmanuel’s condition. The boy started making recognisable sounds and tried to pronounce words. He could focus better on activities and seemed to fully comprehend instructions from his caregivers, our nurse, the external doctor and the therapist. Under the supervision of his doctor and dietician, we started feeding him orally. First only pureed food, alternating between oral and tube feeds. Eventually, the abdominal feeding tube could be removed and he could eat a normal diet. Soon he was also able to feed himself!
Till today, Emmanuel goes for occupational, physio and speech therapy every month at the local Government hospital. Once a week he also receives occupational therapy from an occupational therapist coming to GCF and his child caregivers follow his therapy programme daily. At first, he attended the Early Childhood Developmental group with the younger children in the nursery and other seriously disabled children.
Emmanuel is now able to walk and climb stairs. His balance is still somewhat affected, but soon he will be able to run as well. He can bend, pick up, and carry objects. He loves being able to do things for himself, always with a huge smile. With some assistance, Emmanuel can bath and dress himself. He is bilingual, can speak both Zulu and some English and he has memories from before he became ill, telling us things that have us in fits of laughter. It is nothing wrong with his sense of humour!
Currently, the boy goes to our preschool centre where he is able to participate and communicate with thought and comprehension. He understands all basic concepts and is working hard on improving his developmental areas, like gross and fine motor skills, social and emotional, speech and language and cognitive skills. In time we are hopeful that Emmanuel will be able to go back to school with his peers. His recovery is truly remarkable, and the nurses, doctors and therapist are astonished by his quick turnaround.
Talking with Emmanuel’s doctor, she explains how extraordinary his recovery is:
“When we see children with an ongoing medical condition like his, it is hard to get them to a full functioning state again. I believe in God and miracles. He is a miracle child and it is through the facility (GCF) he has had constant care and his needs have been put first. Even though he still has shortcomings, he is thriving now. GCF has made our work easier.”
Emmanuel has been through much in his life but shows so much strength, which his doctor is pointing out.
“I can recall his face and his laughter, it is hope and courage in him. He is a special child and not like other children. We all need to combine hands and work together for him and children like him.”
Emmanuel still has a long road to complete recovery but with the necessary nurturing care, developmental, therapeutic, educational and medical input, he will soon be back with his family, where he belongs!
(*not his real name)
Written by Glenda Emmerson