Medicine takes away paralysed man’s ‘speech’

2013-01-14 00:00

HIS only way to communicate was by focusing on letters on a special computer screen. But now the sight of Deon Nel (52) from Krugersdorp, has been so badly affected that he can no longer “talk”.

Nel has been totally paralysed by a motor neuron disease. His wife, Bernice, said they suspect Tavanic, a synthetic, broad spectrum antibiotic containing the active ingredient levofloxacin, has affected his sight.

The Tavanic, which can cause serious side-effects, was administered to Nel when he was in hospital late last year.

Nel recently made the headlines when former Springbok rugby player Joost van der Westhuizen, who has also been diagnosed with a motor neuron disease, visited him at home. At that stage he still used a computer to communicate with Bernice and his carers, look at photos and type short text messages.

Now Bernice is not even sure whether Nel can hear her when she speaks to him. She said he could not focus his pupils anymore to “type” on the screen in response to her questions. She said when Nel went to the Krugersdorp hospital in November for treatment of kidney stones, one of his lungs was found to be infected. He was given the antibiotic intravenously. “One morning when his physiotherapist was busy with him, his eyes suddenly rolled back and the therapist immediately said it looked like a type of epileptic fit.”

Bernice said the doctor ordered the Tavanic to be stopped.

The antibiotic is not to be given people suffering from epileptic fits, but is not specifically contra-indicated for people suffering from motor neuron disease. Nel’s attacks are now controlled with medication, but it is uncertain if he suffered permanent damage.

Before his attack, Nel always greeted his visitors with a broad smile and he would type admonishments if Bernice and his carers talked too loudly. “Now he struggles to smile and can only open one of his eyes a little. I struggle to get his attention. In the past, he reacted immediately when I said his name.

“It feels as if I have lost my husband a second time. He has never looked so bad.”

Nel has been bed-ridden for several years and his bedroom is equipped like a hospital’s intensive care unit.

Sudhesh Badari, for the company Ranbaxy that sells Tavanic in Africa, said they have already reported the alleged side-effects to the SA Medicine Control Council as is required by law. An investigation will now follow in which doctor’s reports will be studied to determine if levofloxacin caused Nel’s epileptic fits, Badari said.

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