The road to recovery is not an easy one
Some brave and inspiring individuals tell us how they got their life back in order after an accident or a diagnosis with a life-threatening disease
Being diagnosed with a fatal disease - or having a serious accident - is truly one of the most traumatic experiences a person can go through. Because, no matter how much we hear about an illness or an accident on the news, on some level, we have a hard time believing it can happen to us. The truth of the matter is that bad luck can strike anyone, at any time. And, if it does, the support of family and friends, and a positive outlook, can make all the difference. The following brave people are living proof of that.
'The doctors thought she was hit by a truck' - Eric Fox
UAE-based expat Eric Fox was in Scotland when he got the phone call from his wife telling him their 16-year-old daughter Chloe had been in an accident. She had been cycling home from the park, and it had been dark when she crossed the road and was hit by a motorcyclist. A friend who was with her immediately called an ambulance - and it ended up saving her life.
"The doctors thought she had been hit by a truck," says Eric Fox. "She had broken her femur, shattered her pelvis and lost a lot of blood. She also had lacerations on her lungs, liver and spleen. But the worse part was that she hit her head and there was a swelling in her brain. When she reached the hospital, they had to do an emergency surgery where they removed parts of her skull."
Chloe was in a coma for the next five weeks. Eric, who immediately caught a plane to Dubai, was told that his daughter had less than a five per cent chance of surviving. However, as she got more responsive, the doctors were able to perform another operation on her femur and pelvis. After weeks in the ICU, she was moved to high independence care. It was then that her family had to make a tough call - to take her back to her home country of Australia or Ireland or look for rehabilitation centres in the UAE.
"The truth is that while surgeons are good at what they do, they don't necessarily know the next step - which is why rehabilitation and recovery centres are important," says Eric. "We toyed with the idea of taking her to Ireland or Australia, but she would be in the public healthcare system there."
The parents finally opted for Amana Healthcare Medical and Rehabilitation Hospital, a specialised provider of long-term care and post-acute rehabilitation, which Eric believes has made all the difference. For starters, he was heartened by the staff's attitude. Secondly, it meant Chloe could stay in the UAE, where she has been raised, surrounded by friends and family.
"This episode has shown us how many friends we have here," says Eric. "The expat community has truly become family, and we have hundreds of people on WhatsApp groups who are very supportive."
It has been eight and a half months since the accident, and Chloe has progressed, from being bedridden, to sitting up, to sitting on the side of the bed. Today, she is able to move around in a wheelchair and have normal conversations. With physiotherapy, learning to walk is the next step. Her father also credits her recovery to her incredibly positive state of mind. "Out of the entire time she's been going through this, I think I've only seen her cry or be upset about four times," he says. "Whereas it feels like her mother and I have been crying for four months. She is strong and wants to get better. There are times when I'm not sure how strong I am but she has got it all under control. She told me, 'I'm still the same girl. But now I have a backstory'."
The perseverance and grit shows. When asked about the challenges she's faced, Chloe is optimistic. "Everything is almost finished now," she says. "I'm almost back to being at home. I'm back to almost walking and I'm almost in good health. I feel stronger than ever."
"I knew my body would recover if I could keep it away from death" - Dr Nandita Shah
Being diagnosed with any medical condition is daunting. But when one is diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, they have to accept the fact that there is no cure, and that the best doctors can do is offer drugs to control the situation or relieve the pain. This is what India-based Nandita Shah discovered when she was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome in 1997. The rare autoimmune disorder occurs when the immune system starts attacking healthy nerve cells in the peripheral nervous system - leading to weakness and paralysis.
"I found my hands and legs getting paralysed and I couldn't even turn over in the bed," says Nandita. "The neurologist who confirmed the diagnosis told me I should be hospitalised because of how serious it was - if it spread to my lungs or heart, I could die. But I didn't want to go to the hospital because, back then, they would simply give people drugs for that condition."
Instead, Nandita moved in with friends, and later, her father. "It was a long and hard struggle. I had to have a day nurse and a night nurse to turn and feed me."
Luckily, Nandita was a doctor herself, and although she had never treated the condition before, she knew exactly what it was. Having always had an interest in homeopathy and natural sciences, she realised that the illness was her body's way of sending her a message.
"Back then I had a very hectic lifestyle. I was teaching all over the world. I realised that this was my body's way of saying 'slow down'. I knew that my body would recover if I could keep it away from death," she adds.
So, Nandita cleaned up her lifestyle as much as she could and delved deeper into homeopathy. After the disease got worse over the course of three months, it plateaued - and then she started recovering. In six months, she was able to walk with a stick. Nandita took it as a chance to rethink her lifestyle, and even shifted from the busy city of Mumbai to Auroville in South India.
Today, Nandita is the founder of SHARAN, an organisation that aims to reverse disease through food, and an advocate for healthy eating. She is the first to emphasise that her recovery was not 'miraculous' but a product of science.
"If you have a car that runs on petrol you won't feed it diesel - but humans have been conditioned to eat everything and that is a mistake," she says. "The body knows how to heal and it gives us all the clues we need. We should listen to it."
"I thought I would never walk again" - Ahmad Al Khaja
When Ahmad Al Khaja was studying in the US in 2014, a routine trip to the doctor for tonsillitis came with shocking news. He'd gone to collect the results, only to have doctors inform him that he had
arteriovenous malformation or AVM. Caused due to a tangle of unusual arteries and veins in the brain, the serious condition has symptoms such as headaches and muscle weakness while more severe cases also lead to vision loss, speech difficulties and paralysis. The biggest risk of brain AVM, however, is the possibility of rupture of blood vessels resulting in a brain hemorrhage. There is a 2-4 per cent chance of this happening every year with risk increasing with every episode of bleeding.
"I was scared," the Emirati says. "I was only 20 years old at that time and I was living by myself in another country. For one month, I did not tell my family about the diagnosis. I knew they would simply panic or try to fly down there at once."
Ahmad finally mustered enough courage and told his parents right before he came back to the UAE, following which his family did everything they could to ensure he got the best help possible. In Ahmad's case, the AVM was located deep in the brain matter - meaning surgical treatment had significant risk. After weighing the pros and cons of the treatment, Ahmad decided against any medical intervention at that stage.
Unfortunately the now 24-year-old suffered a brain hemorrhage on December 30, 2016 and was rushed to a local hospital in Dubai. He was unconscious and had seizures and remained in the ICU for some time before he was transferred to another facility for rehabilitation. "He had significant cognitive impairment, was confused and disorientated, unable to walk and had weakness in his left upper limb ," says Dr Khalid Anwar of Amana Healthcare Medical and Rehabilitation Hospital in Abu Dhabi, where he was shifted. "The goal of the rehabilitation at that time was to help him improve as much as possible physically, emotionally and cognitively for further treatment".
Reluctant about opting for brain surgery, Ahmad opted instead to get radiosurgery in the US - where precisely focused radiation is used to destroy the AVM. While the treatment was successful, an accidental overdose and side effects from the medication later on caused his condition to worsen and he was re-admitted to Amana Healthcare again last year.
"I thought I would never walk again," says Ahmad. "I was bedridden and would have epileptic seizures."
Ahmad had to do three hours of physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy every day, and also had an exercise programme between sessions. However, slowly and steadily, the hard work paid off. Today, roughly eight months after the overdose, not only can he walk, he is taking the next step by polishing his driving skills.
"The physiotherapists would keep pushing me to walk," he says. "And it helped a lot. But when they started asking to see if I could run, I drew the line - today, I'm grateful just to be able to walk!" His doctor, Dr Khalid says, "In rehabilitation terms, Ahmad is a complete success story. It only goes to show his commitment to recovery."