Thousands fight brave personal battles to overcome head injury disabilities every day

I was rushed to Netcare Milpark Hospital where I spent an entire month in a coma

Monday, May 20 2013

Property manager, Roberto Jardim says he cannot remember a thing about the devastating collusion he had with a truck in which he suffered a head injury late in 2010. “I was rushed to Netcare Milpark Hospital where I spent an entire month in a coma,” adds the 34-year-old. “I recall nothing about the actual accident and only have memories of the preceding day it.”

After regaining consciousness, Roberto was transferred to Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital in Johannesburg where he spent five months undergoing rehabilitation to regain his physical and mental abilities as well as his strength. “Initially I was unable to raise my right hand more than 5cm off the bed, let alone sit up by myself. In addition to the brain injury, my muscles had been wasting away while I was in a coma. I had to learn to balance, stand, eat, walk, talk, write, shave — pretty much everything that comes naturally to someone without a brain injury.”

Roberto has regained most of his abilities thanks to the rehabilitation programme and the expertise of his therapists, coupled with his own sheer determination. “Barring one or two small idiosyncrasies, I pass for the average man on the street today,” he adds. “I can cook, work in the garden, shovel sand or stone, paint, sandpaper, use power tools and appliances. The one thing I can’t do and which I do miss, is jog or run. However, I regard this as a small price to pay for still being alive with my faculties intact. I am happy to say I successfully did my driving assessment at the end of March 2011 and returned to full time work on 1 June 2011.”

“In addition to the possibility of not regaining consciousness or being physically disabled, I could have suffered from long-term memory loss, short-term memory loss and/or a complete change in personality as a result of the accident. I am extremely fortunate to have suffered none of that.”

Roberto’s moving story was related at a function held at Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital to mark World Head Injury Awareness Day on 20 March and the 21st anniversary of Netcare Milpark Hospital’seEmergency department. Netcare Milpark Hospital has one of the most highly regarded trauma centres in the world and the two facilities often work closely together to assist victims of trauma, such as Roberto, to regain optimal quality of life.

Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital General Manager, Marietha van Vuuren, said at the event that traumatic head injuries as a result of accidents or violence were common in South Africa, affecting thousands of people every year.

Dr André Mochan, a neurologist at Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital, says that the effects of head injury depend very much upon the nature of the injury. An individual who has had a very serious injury may suffer radical physical, psychological and behavioural changes while someone who has had a lesser injury may suffer only mild symptoms. He says that the more serious cases should be treated by a fully integrated team of experts who are able to address all aspects of the head injury and meet the unique treatment requirements of each patient.

On 3 October 2006, Ameena Mehtar kissed her husband, Rashid Akhalwaya, goodbye and left for work. The couple could never have imagined how the events of that morning would change their lives forever. At around 7.20am Ameena was involved in a serious motor vehicle accident and was rushed to hospital in a coma, with head and other injuries. She suffered a diffused axonal injury to her brain, which means that the trauma was not limited to a single part of the brain but affected various parts.

“Doctors had little hope for Ameena,” relates Rashid. “This is not surprising as she had suffered terrible head injuries which caused haemorrhaging and swelling. She also had a fractured hip and internal bleeding into her stomach.”

Rashid believes that doctors did not take into account Ameena’s fighting spirit or the power of God when commenting on her probable prognosois. She survived but was effectively comatose for six months. She was admitted to Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital for rehabilitation but unfortunately did not respond to therapy. Ameena was consequently taken home where she required full-time care.

“In August 2007 I walked into Ameena’s room and told her I loved her,” continues Rashid. “She mouthed back ‘I love you too’. I was absolutely overjoyed and couldn’t believe she had actually responded so I told her I loved her once more. She replied ‘I love you more’, something she commonly said before the accident.”

Rashid says his wife’s recovery has been a slow one and she still needs a lot of care, but she has made great progress. Regaining consciousness after six months in a coma, Ameena wasn’t able to even sit upright without assistance. Today, through her own sheer determination and willpower she has succeeded in learning to operate her specially adapted recumbent wheel chair with foot pedals and can do 100 sit-ups — “considerably more than I can do,” says an admiring Rashid.

The Lokomat robotic walking equipment operated by Rita Henn, the resident physical rehabilitation therapist at Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital, has helped significantly in strengthening Ameena’s lower body, according to Rashid. Since the couple live in Fochville which is quite a distance from Johannesburg, Ameena has only been able to use the state-of-the-art technology on and off since the end of September 2012, but it has already made her considerably stronger. Rashid says the major factor that prevents her from walking now is the difficulty she has with her balance.

Ameena is deaf and has taught herself to lip read so she can communicate with her husband and nine-year-old son. She is also able to type messages on her cellphone. Rashid has done his best to be there for his wife and has given up his full-time job to be available for her.

Van Vuuren says that every day, large number of people like Roberto and Ameena are bravely fighting personal battles to overcome disabilities they have suffered as a result of traumatic head injury. “With the necessary medical care, rehabilitation and support many are able to become fulfilled, rounded individuals and productive members of their communities once more,” she concludes.


Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare
Contact: Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney or Monique Vanek
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
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