Taking Back Control

Taking Back Control. Having survived a near-death experience, Anansa Steyn found herself once more challenged by her own body. We help her get back on the road to recovery.

“It was a seemingly innocuous fall that changed Anansa Steyn’s life four years ago. She had been on holiday in Mossel Bay, enjoying sun-drenched days and relaxing summer nights.

One evening, as she and her friends were riding the golf cart from the hotel to their accommodation, she lost her balance as the cart went round a sharp bend. Anansa fell backwards, knocking her head on the cobblestones. Feeling more embarrassed than hurt, she shook herself off and staggered back onto the cart.

“Apart from having a headache, I didn’t think my situation was that serious, and simply asked one of my friends to get me some painkillers.”

It was only the next morning, as her friend struggled to wake her, that the seriousness of the situation became apparent. “I was vomiting and blood was pouring from my nose.”

She was immediately taken to hospital and despite her ordeal, she joked with the doctors about the accident. It was only after a brain scan was done that the doctors discovered that Anansa had fractured her skull, and was haemorrhaging into the back of her head.

“My family was called and told that I had to go in for an emergency operation the following morning. The doctors needed to stop the bleeding as soon as possible.”

Anansa’s family flew in from Cape Town, still not fully understanding how severely she had been injured. This was the second blow in as many days, as her grandfather had died just two days previously. Her father and stepmother walked into the intensive care unit (ICU) to find their daughter in a coma, hooked up to a lung machine to help her breathe.

“The specialist was worried about swelling on my brain and scans postoperative showed that the frontal lobe was now haemorrhaging. She explained that they were going to keep me in a coma, to allow my brain to heal quicker.”

Four days after her accident, things took a turn for the worse. Anansa’s blood pressure was high and her heart rate had accelerated. Instead of being reduced, the swelling on her brain had increased and the bleeding had not subsided. Her specialist checked her every half hour and she had a designated ICU nursing sister watching her 24 hours a day.

Her father had to return home for her grandfather’s funeral, leaving her stepmother by her side. But Anansa’s situation was dire. Her specialist explained that despite their best efforts, they were losing her. The swelling was constricting the veins, and there was concern that parts of her brain were dying.

Like something out of Grey’s Anatomy, one doctor frantically tried to get her father to give his permission for an emergency operation over the phone, while 10 others gathered round her bed. As the permission was granted, the machine was unplugged and with a nurse sitting alongside her manually pumping oxygen into her lungs she was rushed from ICU into the operating theatre.

The seven-hour operation was successful, but her doctor warned the family that when it comes to brain injuries, there are no guarantees. At this stage they didn’t know what damage would result, if she survived at all. Having done all they could, it was now a case of “wait and see”.

During the next few weeks, Anansa’s health yo-yoed until she was finally stable enough for her doctor to slowly bring her out of the coma. But no one knew what to expect.

When Anansa first woke, her behaviour was like that of a two-year-old.

Finally, a month after her accident she was sent to a rehabilitation facility. She was starting to heal, but her therapist warned her family that it would take another two years before they would know if she would make a full recovery. And four years on, she has.

For Anansa, her life-changing moment is one simple event.

“Not a big thing by any means, but significant to my spirit at the time. A few months into my recovery, including having been wheelchair-bound for three months, my dad took me for a walk on the beach. It was my first outdoor exercise session. I was still shaky and was winded after only a few metres. But I realised how far I had come and nothing was going to stop me now.”

She describes how she started walking every day, then began a light exercise programme at home and slowly became stronger

.“By the end of the year I was amazed at what I had achieved and wanted to challenge myself more, so I began karate to help with my co-ordination. My accident taught me that having a strong healthy body is of paramount importance. I was addicted to being healthy and active.

I started doing a personal training course and got a job at a gym while studying.“But then Anansa suffered another setback a shoulder injury forced her to quit the fitness industry at the end of last year.

“We don’t fully know the cause but it’s most likely a combination of an undetected injury due to the accident, which was exacerbated by my fitness training.”

Having achieved so much, and come so far, Anansa didn’t want to be held back by a “simple” shoulder injury. Her dreams of sharing the benefits of healthy living with others now seemed on hold.

Cue Dr guy Ashburner, a Cape Town-based osteopath on behalf of the osteopathic profession , who identified that Anansa had a rotator cuff injury which had been made worse by reduced mobility of her spine and poor sitting and standing postures.

“The rotator cuff is a group of muscles that run from the shoulder blade and attach to the head of the humerus [the near end of the upper arm bone. This sleeve of muscle helps to stabilise the shoulder and is important for controlling the position and movement of the upper arm,” he explains.

Dr Ashburner adds that an Osteopath considers all factors past and present that may have an effect on the patient, which includes psychosocial, spiritual and physical factors.

“Continuous emotional or psychological stress can produce functional changes in the body, which may become structural if they are perpetuated.”

Dr Ashburner’s aim was to give Anansa a treatment plan that not only improved the mobility of her shoulder, but her overall emotional and physical health as well.

“The body is self-regulating and self-healing and it is the osteopath’s aim to use your body’s ability to repair and maintain itself. It is then the osteopath’s role to know when and where to intervene to assist the body in its healing process.”

Anansa cannot believe that something so simple has changed her life so thoroughly.

“The consultations and treatments have given me great insight into my injury and the easy-to-do exercises have provided me with a much needed sense of control. I am for the first time [after seeing multiple doctors seeing progress and feeling relief in my shoulder.

“Dr Ashburner has truly been the answer to my prayers.”

She has since moved into the hospitality industry and works as the manager of a Guest House in camps Bay in Cape Town.

“My future goals now include getting my shoulder 100 percent better and qualifying as a yoga teacher.”

She hopes to soon be offering yoga classes at the guesthouse.

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