Nthati* (not her real name), now 49 years old, was only three years old when her life was officially derailed.
She does not know what happened to her leg but her parents told her that she got a splinter.
What could be the parents’ first instinctual response? When an object gets into a child’s body, the parents’ fears or instincts may motivate them to get rid of the offending object as soon as possible.
Her parents tried to get it out but failed. The leg started to swell and she was taken to the local clinic after some days when her parents realised she was not getting better.
She was given medication probably for the treatment of pain and went back home.
The medication did not make things any better and when she went to the clinic for a check-up, she was referred to the Mokhotlong Hospital.
“At the hospital, I was also given medication, and from there I kept going there for my regular check-ups but I did not get better until I was referred to a hospital in Maseru”, she explained to Newsday.
She cannot recall which hospital she was taken to in Maseru as this happened more than 40 years ago.
“At that hospital (in Maseru), I was given medication and booked for an appointment. When the time for the appointment came, I went and the leg was operated,” she narrated.
“This time I had hope that I will be cured and be able to live a normal life like other children of my age,” she added.
Nthati further explained that after the operation, she saw a little light at the end of the tunnel as the pain had greatly subsided. She was hopeful that her leg would return to its normal size in no time.
“To my surprise, after I had finished the medication, everything went back; the pain became worse and the leg was swell even more. I started to lose hope because in all of these, no doctor was able to tell me what the sickness was,” she said.
The parents did not relent and kept taking her to hospitals. They also tried traditional doctors but all efforts were in vain.
Eventually, and as expected, the parents could no longer afford to pay her medical bills.
Now Nthati looks like someone who has lymphatic filariasis, commonly known as elephantiasis. Her right leg is extremely bigger than the other.
She lives with her parents at Masakong in the Polihali community.
Due to her strange sickness, she cannot fend for herself. She depends on her parents who used to grow crops in their fields and reared animals.
They sold their produce to put bread on the table.
“At the moment, no one is working in our family and we survive by the compensation we get from the Polihali construction project. My father’s fields were classified under the land which is going to be affected by the project. We also get some money from the Ministry of Social Development,” Nthati explained.
Her situation gets worse during cold weathers.
“When it is cold like it is now, raining or snowing, I have to stay in bed until it is warm. While in bed, there must be another way of keeping the room warm, like making the fire.
“If that does not happen I get so cold that I will be shivering even when I am inside a lot of blankets,” she explained.
Nthati spoke to this publication during a one-day outreach by a team of doctors from China organised by SUN Joint Venture comprising Sinohydro Bureau 3 from China, Unik Civil Engineering (South Africa), and Nthane Brothers as the main constructor together with Kopano Ke Matla Joint Venture.
Pinki Hlalele, coordinator at SUN Joint Venture (SUNJV) said the construction companies decided that before they could start with their main job, they should bring a team of doctors from China to provide medical care for a day to community members who had been sick for a long time.
These included those who have lifetime sicknesses such as sugar diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and others.
The medical team, made up of nine members, included a physician, general surgeon, gynaecologist, orthopaedist, acupuncturist, anaesthesiologist, and radiologist.
Hlalele said the initiative would not a once off thing but the joint venture was planning to have clinic for five years it is expected to take to complete the Polihali Dam wall.
“The clinic will have doctors from Lesotho to provide medical care to people living in the communities of Polihali,” she said.
Nthati explained to Newsday that she went to see the doctors brought by the joint venture with a hope that she would find a permanent cure.
“Up on my arrival here, everyone stared at my leg. That gave me impression that this is something they had never seen before. I started doubting if I will get help.
“I have just seen a doctor and they just looked at the leg and said they cannot help me because they did not come with any machinery. They told me to go to Maseru where I will get looked at through machines,” she said.
She further indicated that knowing that it was almost impossible to go to Maseru due to transport costs, she did not even bother asking which hospital in Maseru she should go to.
“I can see that there is no hope for me. I will never get cure for the sickness and I have accepted that this is something I am going to die with,” she said.
The founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Rare Disease Association of Lesotho, Nthabeleng Ramoeli, said Nthati could be having one of the rare diseases but could not say which.
Ramoeli said there were some of the rare diseases that presented as continuous growths which she said were sometimes found to be cancerous.
She said some of the rare diseases that presented as growths or lumps, if operated they did not get healed but grew further.
“However, she needs to be diagnosed first so that we could know which kind of rare disease she might be having if it is a rare disease, at the moment, I cannot really say,” she said.
Another community member, ‘Marejeleng Sebetha from Makhoarane in the community of Polihali, had visited the construction site to seek medical help for her 12-year-old nephew.
Sebetha said the boy slipped on his way to go school when he was 11 years old and that is when his problems started.
“When the accident happened, he was 11 years and he was doing grade 2 at Laketu Primary School. I was called to the scene and when I arrived he could not talk and walk. He just looked like a new born baby who was even unable to seat up straight,” she explained.
She said the boy was taken to Mokhotlong Hospital where the ex-ray was done.
“After that, I was told I have to take him to Bloemfontein for treatment but I could not afford to take him due to lack of funds because we have no means of generating any income.
“His mother had lost her job as a domestic worker in South Africa. When I indicated that I cannot afford to take him to Bloemfontein I was told to leave him at the hospital where he was provided care including physiotherapy,” she said.
According to Sebetha, with time the boy started to talk and was also able to eat without assistance and later he started to sit on his own but to date, he cannot walk.
“He can only take few steps and that is why he was provided equipment assisting him to walk,” she said.
“He was released from the hospital and I kept taking him there for check-ups until early this year when we stopped going because we were told there was no physiotherapist and no medications were provided.
“I believe if he can walk again if can get medical attention and be able to go back to school because he had to leave school after the accident,” Sebetha explained.
Dr Emily a physiotherapist from the medical team indicated that when the fell, some of the nerves connecting his legs to the spinal cord were damaged.
He said he needed to have gone through an operation within the period of about a year.
“Now that he took long without operation only physiotherapy will help him,” the doctor said and advised Sebetha to take the boy back to the hospital and ensure that he is provided the physiotherapy.