On 22 September 2014 the De Agrella family’s eldest daughter, 16-year-old Cassandra (fondly known as Cassy), tragically and inexplicably suffered a stroke, rendering her incapable of walking, talking, or even feeding herself.
“It was an extremely difficult time. Once Cassy recovered to the extent that she could walk and bath herself, she was discharged from hospital. We came home not knowing what to do and wondering how on earth we could get our Cassy back, as she was unable to communicate,” remembers Dean de Agrella, Cassy’s father.
In November last year, help came from the Netcare Foundation, which offered to pay for Cassy’s treatment at Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital in Auckland Park, with funds received from a donor who asked that his name not be revealed.
“When Cassy came to the facility she could not talk or communicate on the most basic level. This is because stroke sufferers often develop aphasia and apraxia of speech, which are disorders that can develop following a stroke or other brain injury and impact proficiency in using and comprehending words, along with the ability to coordinate speech muscles for speaking. To help Cassy overcome these speech disorders, we started with the repetition of simple phonic sounds. Cassy then worked her way up into saying one-syllable words, multi-syllable words and then short sentences. She made steady progress throughout her treatment,” explains Jennifer Lau, speech therapist at Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital.
Cassy also underwent physiotherapy at Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital, which helped to correct the mild right-sided weakness which resulted from the stroke. Occupational therapy assisted in strengthening her hands so that she could write words, which she previously found impossible, and helped her fine motor control so that she could manipulate objects with her hands. The occupational therapy was also highly beneficial in redeveloping Cassy’s reasoning and problem-solving skills and refining her visual perception. Her progress was of such a nature that she was able to return to her school, Assumption Convent, in April this year, where she attended some of the classes for non-academic subjects in order to spend time with her friends.
On 30 June 2014, however, Cassy suffered a second stroke. “It happened in the morning at home. Even though this time we knew what was going on, it was still a tremendous shock. We had thought that we were through the worst and there was finally a light at the end of the tunnel but it felt like that light was quickly extinguished in those few minutes,” remembers Dean.
Doctors diagnosed Cassy with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks normal, healthy tissue and has the potential to induce stroke. “It was a relief in many ways to finally have a diagnosis of what was causing Cassy’s strokes. In fact, the doctors said that Cassy had had another stroke between September 2013 and June 2014, which we were not aware of. While there is no cure for lupus, it can be managed with medication,” says Dean.
After a two-week stay at Netcare Garden City Hospital, Cassy was again admitted to Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital in July as a full-time patient to continue her physical and emotional therapy. She is now living at home again and goes to Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital a few times a week for physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy.
Cassy’s father is not sure what the future holds for his eldest child. “Luckily the second stroke was not as severe as the first; Cassy can still communicate in gestures and words, but she cannot hold a full conversation. Physically she is also very weak. My daughter is a fighter though, and she’s always smiling, which helps us get through the bad times. Every improvement, no matter how small, is a huge milestone,” maintains Dean.
Dean is also extremely grateful for the support the family has been given. “We have received a lot of assistance from some very special individuals and companies, like the Netcare Foundation, which I would like to acknowledge. There is a long road ahead but many people are walking side by side with us, which makes all the difference.”
Anyone wanting to show their support for the De Agrella family can join Cassy’s Facebook page, “Well wishers and messages for Cassandra”.
Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare
Contact: Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Sarah Beswick or Jillian Penaluna
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
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