Nana’s journey ends on a happy note

Five months ago Nana was confined to her bed as a result of a disease that caused her leg to swell to a diameter of more than 1.5 meters. Now after receiving treatment in Johannesburg, Nana is mobile once more and is looking forward to a triumphant return to her home on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast.

Speaking at Nana’s emotional farewell party held at the Netcare Sunninghill Hospital today, Jacques du Plessis, Managing Director of the Netcare Hospital Division, said that Nana, who suffers from the disease elephantiasis, “is an inspiration to all South Africans”. He noted that the brave woman had endured 133 days of treatment to overcome a medical condition that had rendered her completely immobile and dependent on others.

“A few months ago Nana had to be carried by a number of strong paramedics and policemen to the Netcare 911 vehicle that was to transport her to Johannesburg for treatment,” continued Du Plessis. “Thanks to her treatment and her own tenacity and strength of character, she will not need any help when getting into the vehicle that will transport her home. Her recovery from this medical condition has been nothing short of remarkable.”

Dream fulfilled

Known as “the elephant woman” in her home village of rural Gcilima, Nana’s leg had grown to such a tremendous size that she was unable to leave her home. She has been battling her illness for the past five years and spent the last two bedridden and totally reliant on her family. Moving her was a task her supportive family found challenging because it took as many as nine people to achieve this. Even her wedding had to be planned around her enormous, heavy leg and she married her husband from her bed.

In thanking Nana’s benefactors Kerishnie Naiker, Communications Director of Netcare, said: “Nana’s treatment was made possible by many individuals and organisations working selflessly as one. They were united in their goal, which was to see Nana walk again and lead a happy fulfilled life. Her dream was simply to walk into church unaided and to visit the beach in Margate.  Now she will do all of that and more.”

“Netcare is all about caring for the communities that we serve,” she observes. “Many of us were touched by Nana’s case and we are all humbled and delighted that we could assist her.”

Home to loving husband

Nana said at her farewell party that she was happy she would be able to be independent and able to live a normal life once more. Although a relatively shy woman it was evident from her beaming smile that she was enjoying her new-found mobility and fame, and that she was looking forward to finally getting home to her loving husband and daughter.

Nana thanked etv’s 3rd Degree, Netcare and Netcare 911 for coming to her assistance and making her treatment possible. She said she was also very grateful to vascular surgeon and lymphoedema expert, Dr Dirk le Roux, and physiotherapist, Allison Dendy, who had spent many hours treating her free-of-charge during her long stay in Johannesburg. She was particularly thankful to the community of Kyalami Estates where she was given a home during her five months of treatment and embraced with loving care. Now, with the aid of crutches Nana is mobile once more, something she did not, even in her wildest dreams, consider possible.

Nana Ntombela first noticed the enlargement of her leg in 2006. From that point onwards the leg swelled up uncontrollably and became very painful. By 2009 Nana was no longer able to stand up, the last vestiges of her independence perishing with her immolation. Her family sought help everywhere they could without success and eventually Nana was ready to give up.

Hospital offered support

Nana’s heart-wrenching story was bought to the attention of Dr Le Roux, who practices at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital in Johannesburg following an article published in the Sowetan newspaper in October 2010. He and Dendy immediately offered to help. At about the same time Megan Small, the Senior Producer of etv’s 3rd Degree, started researching Nana’s story with the aim of doing a series of documentaries on her. Touched by Nana’s story, Small decided to approach Netcare to see if the hospital group would assist with her treatment.

While Dr Le Roux and Allison Dendy had offered to treat Nana, she still required transportation to Johannesburg, hospitalisation for the operation she needed, nursing care, comprehensive follow-up treatment and a place to stay during treatment. Fortunately Netcare agreed to help.

Robert Jordaan, General Manager of Netcare Sunninghill Hospital, says that the hospital group had no hesitation in offering its support to Nana after her plight was brought to their attention.

Disease successfully treatable

Jordaan says that the publication of Nana’s case on etv has raised considerable awareness among South Africans about this rare and potentially debilitating medical condition. “While elephantiasis can never be completely healed it can be successfully treated,” he notes. “There is now no reason why anyone else who has this disease should go through the kind of suffering that Nana endured over the years.”

Nana was transported to Johannesburg on 3 May and, under the care of Dr le Roux, Allison Dendy and a team of Netcare healthcare professionals, began her treatment almost immediately. She had to undergo extensive physiotherapy and an operation at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital. Jordaan notes that Nana made rapid progress and that her swollen leg quickly diminished in size.

Preparation to be independent

While Nana made good progress physically, Netcare also wanted her to be fully prepared for her changing circumstances and to be totally independent when the time came to return home. It was therefore decided that she would benefit greatly from the services provided by Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital.

According to Marietha van Vuuren, General Manager of Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital, the facility aims to assist each of its patients to attain or return to a life of maximum possible independence. “We use all the means at our disposal to achieve this goal including using specialists such as neurologists, physiotherapists, psychologists, occupational therapists and nurses experienced in rehabilitation. With these experts we are able to devise a programme that will best assist each patient.”

Progress from sitting to standing

Van Vuuren says that Nana was able to benefit from such a holistic programme which soon built her confidence. She quickly progressed from a sitting position to standing with crutches and assistance. Now she is able to walk with the aid of crutches

“Nana was confined to her bed for more than two years and was not able to look after herself,” continues Van Vuuren. “We therefore aimed to work towards not only getting her mobile once more, but also to prepare her emotionally for daily life in her community.”

Du Plessis says that Nana’s treatment has been a tremendous success. “If one considers that she was completely immobile and reliant on her family and community these past two years, then the great progress she has made since May becomes clearly evident. Netcare wishes Nana all the best in her new life. May she grow stronger every day,” he concluded.

(Press release, September 2011)

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