Just like any other morning on a typical work day, Frederick Louw woke up and prepared for work as usual. Little did he know what was going to happen to him that morning! On his way to work something strange happened as his legs became weak, his walking started to become unsteady and eventually he fell to the ground.
“At that moment I realised that something was wrong with my legs but I couldn’t really tell what the problem was, because I felt no pain.” he reminisced.
Frederick’s strange condition got everyone thinking. Nobody knew what was going on. His father thought it was witchcraft while his mother thought it was due to the nature of his birth.
“He is my first born and he never showed signs that something of that sort was going to happen to him until it happened. I tried putting my mind to it but I just couldn’t understand. At some point I thought it was because I had assisted birth but then I realised this thing then should have happened already while he was still little,” explained Frederick’s mother, Sara Louw.
Sara says that although he used to walk unsteadily he didn’t fall often and because of that, it never seemed to be a problem. “However as time went on he started falling a lot more and that’s when we decided to get crutches for him,” says the mother.
After several times of visiting the hospital, doctors could still not identify the problem. In 2007 doctors decided to send Frederick for a CT scan which revealed that he has Multiple Sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease affecting the central nervous system – the brain and the spinal cord.
According to Bianca Ozcan the Founder and Project Manager of Multiple Sclerosis Namibia, the symptoms experienced depend on the position and extent of the scarring within the central nervous system. “So no two people with MS will have exactly the same set of symptoms. In severe cases the patient becomes completely paralyzed and needs full-time assistance,” explains Bianca.
There is no cure for MS and it’s a condition that keeps getting worse and never better. Common symptoms of MS may include fatigue, numbness or tingling, blurred vision, loss of muscle strength, balance or co-ordination and short term memory loss.
Frederick has been living with MS for fourteen years now since his first symptoms. He says that his speech is now also becoming worse. “Although the condition started on my left side of the body, my right side of the body is now also starting to lose strength – everything keeps getting worse. My sight is now also starting to fade and maybe I am going to need glasses. I don’t know when because I can still see although I can hardly read,” says Frederick.
“When he’s seated on the wheelchair his left leg bends well but whenever we try to get him into the car or whenever he’s in the bathroom he struggles to bend his leg, it doesn’t react and everything gets worse day by day, his urination is now also starting to become a problem.
The doctor told us that he will come from using crutches to the wheelchair and eventually to the bed. He has been sitting on the wheelchair for five years now.
Initially he used a wheelchair that was donated by a member of our church and later I got advice to get a wheelchair from the hospital which he is now using,” says Sara.
Prior to having MS, Frederick worked as a joiner and lived with his wife and two children in Rehoboth. Sadly his condition cost him his job and his 7 year marriage forcing him to move to Windhoek where he currently lives with his parents.
“We tried getting a job for him before the condition got worse but the employer was afraid he was going to be injured by the machines. Luckily, he has been getting pension since 2007 when he was diagnosed with MS,” explains Frederick’s mother.
However Sara expressed her disappointment in the fact that there are no places where people with such disabilities are being taken care of in Namibia. “My husband and I are also in our old age, and while we are supposed to rest as pensioners we now have to sit and look after him.
We don’t have the strength to help him anymore and it becomes a struggle when he falls down because it’s only the two of us living with him.
If the government can look into that it would be helpful. He is lucky to have his mother and father with a house where he stays but what happens when he outlives us, who is going to take care of him? My concern is that there is no help for these people.
We are grateful for what the government has done because he didn’t have a job to sustain him and the pension is really helpful. But there is so much help that we need but we do not know where to go or who to approach,” she laments.
Multiple Sclerosis is not very common in Namibia. It is estimated that 1% of the total population may suffer from MS.