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The “Miracle girl!” - Tasneem Kriel

Before my stroke I was a very happy healthy and in love 23-year-old woman excited for my pending wedding day. My world came crashing down on the 13 June 2009 while out with my “then” fiancé having lunch. I complained about a migraine. After lunch he noticed I was losing my balance, so he decided to take me to the nearest hospital.

I was still awake to direct him to Vincent Pallotti hospital. The first diagnosis was a stroke on the left side of my brain. The stroke seemed to move like lightening blitz, across the sky and attacked me, rendering me silent and comatose. Second diagnosed, I had a cerebral bleed a large haemorrhage stroke called arterio venous malformation (AVM), two week vessels ruptured on the bottom left of my brain. My situation was touch and go for the next couple of days and the doctors are keeping me heavily sedated as they don’t want me to get excited. The best way for the brain to heal is for me to sleep and stay calm. They also didn’t want other weak vessels to rupture, if there were any more. A week later, on the 18th of June, the doctors and neurosurgeons at Vincent Pallotti hospital made arrangements to transfer me to UCT private hospital. At UCT hospital I am known as the “miracle girl” by the nurses.

On the 19th of June Dr Le Feuvre and assisted by Professor Taylor performs the Angiogram. One of the vessels has been coiled, (fused) but the one is to deeply embed in my brain to be coiled and surgery is not an option, it’s too risky. I’m placed on a ventilator and a feeding tube is place via my nose to my stomach and a machine monitors my blood pressure. Again, they keep me heavily sedated as I’m not impressed with all the pipes (so they are afraid that I will hurt myself so I need to be kept sedated). The nurse discovered then that I had contracted a blood and a chest infection. There -fore the doctors started to talk about a tracheostomy, as it will help me to not contract any more infections. The date has been set, I will be having the tracheostomy. This will be much better for me as I’ll have no more pipes in my mouth. It will be more comfortable for me.

On the 7 July, I went for a routine CAT scan and MRI scan, overall all was well. The tracheostomy was removed and I can breathe on my own. I start to show signs of excitement when shown pictures of my cat (Tigger) and when showed a magazine. Doctors were impressed with my improvement.

A few weeks before my discharge date, the doctor called for a family meeting. My condition at the time was still very bad; my family was asked what institution   was I going to? My mom burst into a flood of tears and insisted she would look after me! Everyone was shocked into silence at my mom’s reply and at the time I was like a baby all over again. My fiancée at the time demanded to speak to the doctor, he was devastated but sadly his mind was already made up about our relationship.

On the 11 August, my sister gave birth to my niece, miraculously on that day I snapped out of the drug induced coma fully and remembered everything, except for that day it all happened I remember bits and pieces, but not much. I was very confused as too why I was in hospital all plastered up both arms from my right foot to waist, very puzzling to me I laid awake in the ward trying to remember what had happen to me? Was I in a car accident? No! then what?

After sitting hour after hour unable to speak properly, or turn my head and speak without pain, I worried about ever walking or shopping in malls again, pastimes I lived for. Or perhaps being a serious burden to my dear parents. I prayed. Aged 23 still young, I prayed for recovery, but little happened. My whole right side, from painful toes to ache shoulder blade was badly affected. I also had an operation on my right Achilles tendon as it had contracted so badly that they had to operate on the foot to release the muscle in order for me to walk again. I even had staples at the back of my foot.

As an inpatient, I received a minimum of three hours daily of physical, occupational and speech therapy to regain my strength, movement, balance, speech and language. Every day was a day of major improvement. I was discharged from hospital on the 3 September 2009, although I couldn’t walk, couldn’t move my right side and struggled to do anything. Together my parents, my physician and UCT rehabilitation specialists (together) mapped out a plan of care that included intensive Speech, Physical and Occupational therapy.

On one of my first sessions with my Occupational Therapist (Camilita Barron), as an outpatient, I remember I was told in a stern voice, “You can do anything you want to do, go back to work etc." She was not going to let me entertain the idea that I can't. They drilled this mindset into me. My mindset was crucial. Seven months later I was able to get dressed by myself and was allowed (approved) to move from the bed to the chair or bathroom without assistance - a big step on the road to independence. I also asked my parents to release my caregiver as I felt I was ready to be on my own. Since April 2010 I have been on my own at home, looking after myself during the day while my parents are at work.

Over these last three years I have been battling with my coordination to stand and my locomotion. My parents bought me a stationary bicycle which keeps me motivated and helps with increasing strength and motor function.  I am now able to walk with a crutch although I’m not strong enough to walk long and far distance or in busy places. Before the stroke I was much more 'me' oriented, very self-involved, now, I'm not like that. Now, I'm much more about 'we.' I want to use the time that I have and my experience to make a positive contribution to how we live our lives and for the health and well-being for other people who are in the place that I have been and still recovering from.