While everyone was gearing up for a joyful festive season, Sophia Kiwiets describes 21 December 2019 as the worst day of her life. “I got the call that my child was hit by a car and time just stopped. We rushed to the hospital to be by his side,” says Sophia.
Simphiwe Swartz (17) was involved in a pedestrian-related car accident not far from his home in Eersterivier, Cape Town. The incident left him with severe traumatic brain injury, multiple fractures and soft tissue injuries. Sophia says doctors had very little hope that her son would pull through, but she didn’t stop keeping the faith. “Before the accident, my son was a larger-than-life character who enjoyed going to youth services at church; he loved to pray,” she says. “I kept my faith, just as he always did.”
After three weeks on a ventilator and a two-month stay in the hospital, Simphiwe was referred to St Joseph’s Home for rehabilitation. Due to the extent of his brain injury, Simphiwe struggled with poor motor control, poor orientation to time, cognitive dysfunction and dysarthria (a motor-speech disorder in which speech is unclear due to injury to the part of the brain that controls the muscles that produce speech and sounds).
“On admission, Simphiwe was a very challenging patient. He became aggressive and frustrated. He would hit, bite and kick the nurses and was quite the screamer too,” says staff nurse Vinique Fortuin. All these reactions were related to his brain injury, but this didn’t stop the dedicated staff from doing what they loved most.
“He was fed via gastrostomy tube (also known as PEG tube) and it would take two nurses to get this done. One to do the feeding and another to hold him steady,” she explains. But as time passed, Simphiwe became familiar with his surroundings and the staff members, this meant giving him the care he needed became much easier. “As he became calmer, we would explain to him what was going to happen and he would agree,” says staff nurse Fortuin.
These challenges in day-to-day care meant Simphiwe’s road to recovery would be a long one. And his inability to communicate proved to be one of his biggest frustrations. “Simphiwe was a very social child and he loved to dream big,” says Sophia. “When he and his friends were sitting together or getting ready to go to youth, he would be the one doing all the talking. He was ambitious and compassionate, and always had a good fighting spirit.”
After one year and eight months at St Joseph’s Home, Simphiwe’s fighting spirit proved to be stronger than ever. “He has made excellent progress,” says speech therapist, Megan Morrison. “On admission, he had a low level of consciousness and appeared agitated when seated in his wheelchair, but after oral stimulation to reintroduce oral feeding and increased stimulation for communication of basic needs, Simphiwe’s level of functioning improved,” explains Megan. Simphiwe is now able to safely swallow all food consistencies and his PEG tube has been removed.