It began like a regular Monday morning, May 27th 2013 and like she had done every week day for the previous four months, four-year-old Lionel Malgas’ mother, Eva Malgas, dressed him up as she prepared him for kindergarten.
Like most other children his age, he was looking forward to another fun-filled day at the school playgrounds.
Little did they know his life, and that of his parents, was about to take a dramatic turn. Lionel has been diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder caused by inflammation across both sides of one level, or segment, of the spinal cord. He has never walked again since that fateful day of May 27th 2013.
“He came back from school hobbling and complaining about a pain on both knees,” his mother, Eva explains to The Telegraph. “The school told us he just collapsed and kept falling every time he tried get back on his feet.”
Eva says they gave him a massage and he seemed to be doing better that same evening. “But the following day he could not even get up on his own. His legs seemed to have gone completely numb.”
She says they took him to Gaborone West Clinic where he was diagnosed with Guillian-Barre syndrome (GBS), a disorder affecting the nervous system causing paralysis or weakness affecting one’s feet and hands.
“From Gaborone West Clinic he was referred to Princes Marina Hospital where they also made the same diagnoses and immediately admitted him into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU),”says a devastated Eva.
Eva says it was only after an MRI scan at Bokamoso Hospital that Lionel was diagnosed with transverse myelitis.
Dr Aleana Lawrence, a neurologist at Lenmed Health Bokamoso Private Hospital, says once someone has been diagnosed with transverse myelitis there is hardly any chance for recovery.
“A person with transverse myelitis loses all sensation from the waist down,” she explains. “It causes paralysis.”
But Eva is not about to give up. “I have been told his chances of recovery are slim but I will keep doing my best to help him regain his fitness.”
She says since her son was diagnosed with the condition she has had to quit her business in order to commit all her time to caring for him.
“I depend on my boyfriend (Lionel’s father) and relatives for financial assistance. She says getting to grips with her son’s condition was so hard she had to receive psychological counselling. Lionel’s Tom McKenzie is not about to give up either. “Recovery does not come over night and I believe with enough time and effort, he will pull through,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lionel, now five, still goes for regular physio-therapy in South Africa. He uses a wheel chair to move around.
Dr Lawrence says although relatively unknown, transverse myelitis is prevalent in Botswana. She says the disorder is not immediately life threatening but there are some infections that may arise as a result of being stationery for an extended period of time. Research shows that transverse myelitis occurs in both adults and children, in both genders, and in all races.
No familial predisposition is apparent. Symptoms of transverse myelitis include a loss of spinal cord function over several hours to several weeks.
What usually begins as a sudden onset of lower back pain, muscle weakness, or abnormal sensations in the toes and feet can rapidly progress to more severe symptoms, including paralysis, urinary retention, and loss of bowel control.
The majority of people with this disorder experience only one episode although in rare cases recurrent or relapsing transverse myelitis does occur.