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Survivor counsels patients with rare condition

7 September 2020

By Mokgadi Maponya

A young woman from Mamelodi in Pretoria has been giving voluntary counselling sessions to patients with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital for the past three years.

Nthabiseng Tlaka (26), who was diagnosed with GBS in 2015, helps the patients by sharing her story and encouraging them. She is the first woman with a disability to volunteer these counselling sessions.’


Nthabiseng Tlaka (centre) with Steve Biko Academic Hospital staff


GBS is a rare condition in which the immune system attacks the nerves. This condition may be triggered by an acute bacterial or viral infection and only affects one or two people in every 100 000.

Most people eventually recover from the most severe cases of GBS, but may continue to have some muscle weakness and paralysis that generally starts in the legs and moves to the arms.

Tlaka incurred damaged nerves after being diagnosed with GBS, which led to a permanent physical impairment and resulted in her spending 12 months in hospital.

She says after she started walking again in 2016, she visited patients with the same condition in different hospitals across Pretoria because she wants to see patients do well.

“I was a patient at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital and I took it upon myself to offer counselling so I approached the hospital to offer my services. This resulted in me being trained for two weeks as a spiritual care counsellor under the HospiVision department which assists patients to regain as much of their humanity, dignity and integrity as possible, despite their health struggles,” Tlaka says.

Joyce Msibi who is a matron at the hospital says that it is the first time a public institution has worked with someone like Tlaka. “GBS is a rare condition and it’s easier for Nthabiseng to share her story and for her to create awareness around the condition. It’s also easier for patients to relate to her,” Msibi says.

Lebogang Mofokeng (20), one of Tlaka’s patients says that when she was diagnosed with GBS in 2018 she thought her life was over and would not survive, which almost resulted in her falling into depression. “When Nthabiseng did these sessions with me I saw myself getting better, I had a different view on my life. I am very thankful for her support and sharing her experience of being in ICU and how it felt.”



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