Paralysed teenager bitten by rats while sleeping

2016-10-27 09:08

Mary-Anne Gontsana, GroundUp

Cape Town – Palesa has no feeling in her lower body and has lost the use of her legs. She was born healthy and able-bodied, but at 3-weeks-old she fell ill and was placed in the Red Cross Children's Hospital. She was then diagnosed with a spinal defect.

Her mother Zandile Kwayiba says she has been doing everything in her power to provide for her daughter and her two younger children but struggles to work as she needs to take care of Palesa. She depends on social grants.

Palesa Kwayiba says she would love to get a workin
Palesa Kwayiba says she would love to get a working wheelchair and live in a house with her mother. (Photo: Mary-Anne Gontsana/GroundUp)

"There were days when I had to go from house to house around here asking for food because I did not have money to feed my children. Palesa's father left when he found out about Palesa's condition and I have not heard or seen him since," says Kwayiba.

"My biggest challenge at the moment is her school transport and wheelchair. She goes to school full time, but lately she has been missing classes because of unreliable transport."

Wheelchair problems

Palesa's wheelchair, borrowed from the Tembalethu Special School in Gugulethu which she attends, has seen better days. The rubber on the wheels is worn, the foam stuffing emerges from bursting seams and the backrest is broken.

Tembalethu provides a taxi to ferry children with special needs. Kwayiba pays R250 a month for the transport service, but the taxi does not go into Barcelona informal settlement where the family has been living for 13 years.

"When it rains we cannot go all the way to the road to wait for it," Kwayiba told GroundUp.

The Kwayiba shack is a few minutes' walk up a hill between other shacks, easily accessible by car. But the wheelchair struggles on the sandy road as it is uneven and wet from leaking taps nearby, and worse when it rains. Kwayiba struggles to push Palesa to the pick-up point in NY108, about 500m away, because of the condition of the road's surface and the wheelchair itself.

Palesa had a better wheelchair, supplied by Red Cross Children's Hospital, but it was stolen while her mother was lifting her into a taxi to go to school.

Another wheelchair was donated to the family during the election campaign earlier this year, but Palesa could not use it because it was far too big for her. Her arms couldn't even reach the wheels and it had no proper back support for her spine.

No toilet

There are no toilets near the family's shack and they have to use their neighbour's toilet.

Rodents are also a problem in the shacks.

"I have to make sure that I sleep with the light on and constantly check on Palesa," says Kwayiba, "because she can't feel when she is being bitten by rats or mice".

Despite all these hardships Palesa is a vibrant and bubbly 14-year-old who appreciates everything her mother has done and continues to do for her.

"My wish is for us to get a proper house and for me to get a wheelchair," says Palesa.

Being late for school is a constant worry for Palesa, but she says it gets even worse.

"Sometimes I don't even go to school because the transport does not fetch me."

Read more on:    cape town  |  health

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