One of the many stories from our Respite Unit which stands out over the past year is that of Thandi (name changed). Thandi is a young, lively grandmother with one son, and a granddaughter. Originally trained as a pastry chef, she was diagnosed with HIV at the beginning of 2013.
Once diagnosed, Thandi battled for months on her own with the illness, unaware that she had subsequently contracted Tuberculosis (TB). Eventually, she defaulted on her ARV medication because she was too weak to get to a doctor for a repeat script.
Finally, emergency admission to hospital revealed a very high viral load (measure of the strength of the virus in her system) and very low CD4 cell count (measure of the strength of the immune system). She also had a severe cough.
Treatment for TB followed and Thandi was later discharged. Despite the TB medication, her condition deteriorated further. Six months after testing positive for HIV, Thandi lost her ability to walk or go to the toilet by herself. She desperately needed help.
Thandi heard about HACT through a relative, and was admitted weighing just 43kg and immobile – the TB had affected her spine. Before she was admitted to the Respite Unit, she was told by doctors at the hospital that she wouldn’t walk again.
In the Unit, Thandi was given a chance to rest and recover and put back on ARV medication. She regained her appetite and started to put on weight.
“Over the next few months, with the help of the physiotherapists and wonderful carers, I started to regain feeling in my limbs, and slowly, slowly, I was able to move my legs. The healthy, fresh food also helped me get stronger”.
Gradually, Thandi could climb out of bed and into a wheelchair by herself. Soon she was able to walk using crutches around the gardens, and then she learnt to walk a few meters unaided.
Thandi said, “I have learnt through all this that it is vital to check your HIV status early by getting tested, and if diagnosed positive, to take the medication. By doing this, you are much less likely to experience the kind of complications I had. Thankfully, I was given the right help and medication just in time; otherwise there would have been a bad ending to this story”.
Thandi emphasises the importance of staying positive, eating healthily, and having faith. She is very, very grateful for the time she spent in the Respite Unit which not only helped her recover physically, but also helped her to stay positive and look forward to the future again. “The Unit is amazing! I say thanks to God for giving me this place. I say to people, if you take your medication and stay positive, you will be smiling like me!”
Thandi was discharged after just over a year in the Unit, and is now at home with her family.