Never take the gift of life for granted

Zululand Observer - Monday - - ZO NEWS - Richard Springo­rum

‘LIFE is short, so live it to the full.’

These are the words of Em­pan­geni res­i­dent Rita Hersel­man (59) who was di­ag­nosed with mo­tor neu­ron dis­ease and has had to learn to ad­just her lifet­style while deal­ing with the de­bil­i­tat­ing ef­fects of the dis­ease.

‘In 2013 I started feel­ing weak and had no power in my legs and arms. I was in con­stant pain.’

It took three years for her to be for­mally di­ag­nosed, and only af­ter many trips to the hos­pi­tal and hun­dreds of tests.

Since then Rita’s con­cen­tra­tion span has de­te­ri­o­rated to just min­utes at a time, her hands cramp up, she bat­tles to breathe and is on sup­ple­men­tary oxy­gen for 16 hours a day.

De­spite hav­ing to take a va­ri­ety of ex­pen­sive med­i­ca­tions for wa­ter re­ten­tion, anx­i­ety, mus­cle spasms, pain and sleep, she is also in­con­ti­nent and is fit­ted with a catheter.

‘The av­er­age life ex­pectancy for this dis­ease is any­thing from three to six years, but I’m not afraid of dy­ing and I know that God has a plan for me.’

Love above all else The chal­lenges she faces are three­fold - phys­i­cal, emo­tional and fi­nan­cial (the gov­ern­ment does not sub­sidise this chronic dis­ease med­i­ca­tion, which costs around R2 500 per month).

Her mar­riage of 10 years to her beloved Dup is her con­stant, and he is her strength and sup­port.

‘Love keeps us go­ing,’ she says.

In the morn­ing he helps her out of her cus­tom-an­gled bed, and puts her into her wheel­chair be­fore lov­ingly wash­ing and dress­ing her.

Dup - a po­lice­man - then feeds her be­fore leav­ing for work.

Rita’s brother Steve then takes over un­til Dup gets home.

‘I like to work on my com­puter and watch tele­vi­sion and rest to pass the time dur­ing the day.’

She gar­ners strength from her faith, her sup­port sys­tem and her friends in the J9 com­mu­nity (the foun­da­tion started by Joost van der Westhuizen, for­mer Spring­bok rugby player who also suf­fered from the dis­ease). ‘I be­lieve that if you pick your­self up, then you can pick oth­ers up.’

Rita Hersel­man would like to cre­ate more aware­ness of mo­tor neu­ron dis­ease

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