Overcoming hardship

A tale of the courage, resilience and love of life that helped Dejané de Bruin overcome hardship

George Louw
By George Louw
8 Min Read

A tale of the courage, resilience and love of life that helped Dejané de Bruin overcome hardship

It is rare but it happens. When it happens, it lifts the states of mind of all that share in the circumstance. It happens when a terrible event is met with courageous positivity and an upbeat joy of life regardless of circumstance. Helen Keller, born deaf and blind, stated that the source of her life-optimism was founded in the realisation that the world was full of hardship, but that it was equally full of the overcoming of hardship.

This is the story of Dejané de Bruin who grew from a scared youngster into a courageous young woman because she chose to overcome her hardship with a spirit of joy, courage, and resilient perseverance.

Dejané’s hardship started on 28 October 2022 when the then twelve-year-old suddenly developed back pain while playing with friends. She laid down for a while, decided to go for a shower and experienced an onset of intense fear when she collapsed and found that she suddenly became paralysed from the waist down.

She was rushed to the George Mediclinic where she was initially diagnosed with Gillian Barre syndrome, but following a second MRI scan, a final diagnosis of Transverse Myelitis (TM) was made. TM is caused by the inflammation of the spinal cord. It damages the fatty myelin sheath around the nerves. (The myelin sheath acts like the plastic insulation around the copper wires of an electric cord.) As a result, the nerves to stop working.

The exact reason why TM occurs in some (unfortunate) people is uncertain, but TM inflammation can result as a side effect of underlying conditions such as various infective conditions, trauma, or lack of oxygen to the spinal cord. Full or partial recovery occurs in most cases, but about a third of cases remain with serious disabilities, including paralysis and incontinence of the bladder and/or bowel. In all instances the major management of the condition includes physiotherapy and occupational therapy. Medication includes high doses of steroids and anti-inflammatory medicines.

Dejané spent four weeks in George Mediclinic followed by another eight weeks in the Aurora Rehabilitation hospital in East London after which she was discharged to continue rehabilitation as an outpatient; physiotherapy, fitness training and occupational therapy. All of which is still ongoing.

Initially things were very scary and rough for Dejané and her mother, Delanie, who supported her throughout the hospitalisation as well as the in- and outpatient rehabilitation.

They suddenly found themselves in uncharted territory; a life-altering paralysis with horrible additional effects – incontinence, intense pain, shattering heartache, and a debilitating fear of the unknown, to name but a few. All of this in, for the two of them, a foreign, intimidating hospital environment.

They missed their home, their dogs and Dejané’s netball; the normal routines of their lives were upended. However, when Delanie became overwhelmed and the tears flowed, Dejané would reach out to her, saying with a smile: “Don’t worry mommy, we’ve got this”. But Dejané’s pain was noticeable in her eyes and her most frequent question to the doctors was when she would be able to play netball again.

Dejané’s most difficult time was rehab at Aurora with new doctors, physios, occupation therapists and nursing staff. Witnessing damage to other patients affected her deeply. To top it all, she was the only child in the hospital…

However, this was also where her positivity and courage came to the fore, soon making her the darling of the hospital, patients and staff alike. Always ready with a laugh and an upbeat mindset. She had to relearn how to dress herself, how to “talk” to her legs, how to transfer; from bed, chair, and floor – tipping her out of her chair and guiding her with techniques to get back in. When she failed, it was always, “Let’s try again, I will get it right”.

When the two of them, trapped in a hospital ward, became home sick, missing their family and pets, silly videos became an escape. They took a decision of will together; to remain positive and upbeat. No matter what “lemons” were thrown at them, they would “turn it into lemonade”. An aunt encapsulated it: “I am so glad that the two of you can laugh together and cry together about what you are going through. One day you will look back on this and realise how you have grown together and be proud of it. I thank the Lord that he gave you the gift of humour even during times of heartache. Without Him you would not have come this far. God is there with you, every step of the way.”

Dejané missed out on her primary school farewell and saying goodbye to teachers and friends. Her highschool start at Outeniqua High School was delayed so she missed out on the initiation camp and arrived later in the term, alone and afraid – the only pupil in a wheelchair.

However, she (wo)manned up and accepted the challenge, again with smiles and laughter. Although the school did a lot to accommodate her, there were events that she could not attend, especially the sport grounds were out of bounds for this sport-loving child. What she misses most is going to the beach and playing in the sea.

Her mom, Delanie, tells how proud her family is of Dejané. Of how she tackles life by the horns despite her many challenges and her upbeat mindset. Her greatest aim is to walk again and to be able to play netball again.

It is now a year later. Dejané is back in school full time and after school it is a succession of physiotherapy, fitness training and occupational therapy. Only her weekends are free. Throughout this, she inspires and enthuses those that cross her path. For Delanie she remains her laughing, wacky, lovable meisiekind.

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George Louw
By George Louw Health Administration
Ida’s Corner is a regular column by George Louw, who qualified as a medical doctor, but, due to a progressing spastic paralysis, chose a career in health administration. The column is named after Ida Hlongwa, who worked as caregiver for Ari Seirlis for 20 years. Her charm, smile, commitment, quality care and sacrifice set the bar incredibly high for the caregiving fraternity. email: yorslo@icloud.com
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