In 2006, Ella was living with her husband of 3 years and their small baby was just 3 months old. Constant diarrhoea after the birth meant Ella started becoming weaker and weaker. Eventually Ella moved to her mother’s house because she couldn’t care for herself or her baby. Visits to a local clinic and pills to relieve the diarrhoea did not help. Ella went to doctor after doctor. After 5 visits to special doctors, there was still no relief from the diarrhoea. Finally, Ella’s younger sister suggested she should go to the clinic to test for HIV.
After the test at KwaMhlanga Hospital revealed that Ella was positive for HIV, she was asked to return in 3 weeks so that her CD4 count could be checked. CD4 cells are a type of white blood cells that fight infection; the CD4 count measures the number of cells found in the sample of blood drawn and is used to measure the strength of the immune system. The average healthy person has a CD4 count of 700-1200.
By this time Ella was so weak she was unable to even walk. Ella’s sister carried her to the clinic where they discovered that her CD4 count was only 12. Because Ella’s CD4 count was so low, she could not take Anti-Retroviral (ARV) medication. Instead, the nurses at the clinic gave Ella boosters with vitamins for two months to help get her health and strength up. When Ella at last started ARVs she suffered from side effects and became ill once again with diarrhoea and vomiting. The pills weren’t even digested as Ella couldn’t keep any food in her body.
Ella’s sister came to Nakekela to find out if there was a bed available, and after hearing her story, Sr. Emma visited Ella to find out what the problem was; within a week Ella was admitted to Nakekela. To combat the diarrhoea and vomiting she was given her ARV tablets crushed in porridge, which helped to coat the stomach and assisted in reducing the side effects of the drugs. Slowly, Ella was able to eat again and start treatment.
Upon admission Ella could not walk or talk. She was too weak to do anything but lie in a bed. Even sitting in a wheelchair required so much effort that Ella had to miss out on the weekly Bible studies and craft sessions. The Nakekela team made sure that she was not excluded: care givers kept coming in to check on her and take her vitals and even the kitchen staff detoured to visit and chat to her. Ella remembers that Babette came in every morning before she went to her office to see how she was doing.
Ella believes that the love and care she was shown contributed to her recovery. During this time Dr. Sonja wrote a letter to the local clinic asking that they test Ella’s small child for HIV. Ella’s mother brought the baby to the clinic and tested, and the staff all praised God that the baby was not positive for HIV.
Once Ella started to feel better she requested that she be allowed to start caring for herself. Overcoming challenges like walking to the toilet and bathing herself gave Ella purpose; she knew that if she could do these simple things she would be able to go home and be strong again.
On the day Ella was discharged, she was determined to walk home instead of getting a lift in a vehicle. Babette walked home with her. When Ella arrived home, her family were overjoyed to see her. They could not believe that she was healthy again and phoned neighbours and other family members to come and see.
Every Thursday, Ella received a vegetable package to help with food and make sure she was receiving the nutrition she needed while taking her medication. Home Based Care workers also came to visit her at home and to make sure everything was going well and that she was eating and taking her medication properly.
When Ella had recovered her full strength, she began visit Nakekela and find out if she could get a job there. She wanted to help other people that were faced with the same situation.
In 2012, Ella was hired as a Home Based Care worker. Today Ella’s eagerness and zeal to help sick people urges others on to fight the battle against HIV/AIDS. She frequently phones in about new critically ill people to see if there are open beds at Nakekela. Ella loves to educate the community about HIV and how to prevent it, and to give hope to those who suffer from the devastating effects. Despite rejection from her husband, Ella is still an optimistic person passing on her enthusiasm to others and encouraging us to press on in our work.
Ella’s CD4 count has increased to 850 through her conscientious determination to take her treatment correctly and to eat a healthy diet and live a healthy lifestyle. She is very proud of her 6-year old child has started Grade 1 this year.