KAPALA CHISUNKA, Lusaka
FOR close to four years now, the Intensive Care Unit at the University Teaching Hospitals (UTH) has been home to 23-year-old Danny Mwanza. He has spinal injuries.
Danny, who is partially paralysed and can only move his right hand and right leg, also breathes with the aid of an oxygen machine. Due to his condition, Danny depends on the ICU staff besides his mother.
His mother, Catherine, 43, a peasant farmer of Chongwe rural, has been living at the Mother’s shelter at UTH to be close to her only child.
This is because she has nowhere to live while in Lusaka. Her family has abandoned her.
Danny, who struggles to talk because of the ventilator attached on his neck, explains that he is getting better and happy with the environment in which he has been living all this time.
“I am feeling much better. But I would like us to have a house where I could return to when I leave this hospital. It would make my mother happy as well,” he says from his hospital bed.
Before his accident, Danny, who was born in 1995 in rural Chongwe at a village called Chipyela, was an ordinary and normal teenager.
However, a fall on his way home from school in 2015 altered his life and left him confined to a bed. He was in Grade Five then and does not remember much about the fall.
According to his mother, Catherine, when she heard Danny had fallen, she went to carry him home because he was unable to walk.
“I took him to the hospital but I was told he was fine. But he started falling frequently and could not walk, not because of epilepsy. He would get weak in the knees and joints,” she said.
Later, Catherine said Danny’s health continued deteriorating such that he stopped talking and doing things for himself. She took up the role of a caregiver.
“I helped him with everything because his arms and legs continued weakening. He was just lying on his mattress motionlessly,” she said.
Her neighbour then offered to take them to Chongwe District Hospital, where he was admitted for a day and a test was done. He was later referred to UTH on August 15, 2015.
“He has been in ICU since then because what we later found out was that it was a spine injury,” she said.
Catherine said her son has made tremendous progress since he has been at UTH. She is able to have a meaningful conversation with him now.
The UTH has taken over the responsibility of providing Danny’s personal needs including toiletries, food and other necessities. However, Catherine said living at the mother’s shelter can also be a challenge in itself because it is restrictive but she wants to be close to her son.
Even though Catherine’s relatives are aware of her son’s condition, they have not visited her since he was admitted.
Catherine is a single parent, having separated from Danny’s father when her son was one year and six months old.
“I have two siblings in Lusaka, one in Kabwe and another in Chongwe rural. My life has had to come to a halt because I cannot be away from my son for a long time, so I cannot do anything else,” she said.
She depends on the goodwill of some church organisations and some individuals.
“Besides UTH and staff at ICU, I am grateful to have met Dr Ahmed and Mr Mwape from social services as they have never given up on me,” she said.
But as Danny’s health shows signs of improvement, it is becoming clear that UTH will no longer be his home.
Catherine’s house in Chongwe has partially collapsed and is unhabitable. The mud and thatch structure collapsed while she was at UTH.
She finds herself now in need of accommodation to look after her son when he is discharged from the hospital.
In Chongwe, she did farming to provide for her son and her partially blind nephew, whom she left in the custody of her neighbour.
Danny was admitted to the ICU with a history of paralysis of the legs and hands, and respiratory failure, though it was unlikely that the fall had led to the paralysis.
Investigations showed a tumour on the back between the head and the neck. The tumour was removed and ideally his mobility should have been restored, according to ICU sister-in-charge Lucia d’Olivera Banda.
She said if he is discharged, Danny needs portable ventilators or cylinders of oxygen and he should live near a health facility.
Currently, the hospital is only keeping him because of ventilator support.
“He does not need much now, he is not even on medication. It’s just for oxygen, otherwise if not for the ventilator support, he can go to any ward or a hospice,” she said.
UTH acting principal social worker Stephen Mwape said his office knew about Danny’s case more than six months after he was admitted to the ICU.
ICU staff contacted him after they noticed that the patient was in need of assistance.
After it was established that Catherine was abandoned by her relatives, Social Welfare sought the help of well-wishers, who have since been providing material support.
Mr Mwape even visited Catherine’s home and investigations showed that she has no proper home to go back to.
He suggests that well-wishers put up a house, near a health facility, for Catherine and where a ventilator can be fitted.
“That village in Chongwe is not good enough. The house is way too small and that environment is not conducive for any patient that is under clinical care,” he said.
It is not feasible that Danny will be able to walk again.
“It could be a bonus to the patient if the mother had her own home near the hospital. She could find a person to be with Danny while she goes out to make a living,” he said.
Danny’s condition has left his mother under stress and Social Welfare provides counselling sessions to enable her to cope.
“It is not easy for anyone to have no family members visit and support them. We try to sit her down and counsel her because she sometimes strays,” he said.
And UTH public relations officer Natalie Mashikolo is concerned about the disintegrating family bond.
She says relatives no longer care for each other and patients end up being abandoned in hospital.
“Society needs to change its attitude towards its relatives and each other. We need to do better as a society,” she said.
KAPALA CHISUNKA, Lusaka