Never take the gift of life for granted
‘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