Nothing short of a miracle:
Baby Onikwa’s Journey

It’s hard to believe baby Onikwa Mapalala can greet us with a smile on her last day at St. Joseph’s Home. Her mother, holds onto her tightly as the little busy bee flails about with excitement.

While Onikwa’s therapy team does final checks to make sure she has all she needs, the rest of the St. Joseph’s family gathers around to bid farewell to the two-year-old.

Onikwa was admitted to St. Joseph’s at only 11-months old from Karl Bremer Hospital. She needed top-quality rehabilitation and multi-disciplinary care after being diagnosed with evolving cerebral palsy caused by a hypoxic brain injury (an injury that forms due to a lack of oxygen to the brain). In addition to this, she was faced with cortical blindness, reduced hearing ability and often experienced seizures. This meant there was much work to be done to make sure this little one got a second chance at childhood.

“When Onikwa joined us in early 2020, she was unable to roll, didn’t play with toys and would often cry when she had to play in large groups,” says Monique Christmas, occupational therapist. “She would often get overstimulated in a group and would only settle when held and rocked gently.”

It was clear that intense therapy was required in the first six months of her stay to improve her gross motor skills, hand function and sensory regulation.

“St. Joseph’s Home is unique in that each child has access to a multi-disciplinary team of therapists and nurses who can work together and support one another in the treatment and progress of each patient,” says physiotherapist, Melissa Rijs. “This holistic approach in care does wonders for the patients’ recovery,” adds speech therapist, Megan Morrison.

This is evident with little Onikwa who is now able to sit in her buggy and roll independently. “She moves around on the mat and in her cot and can transition from laying down to sitting and back again,” says Monique.

She’s also been issued spectacles to improve her vision and this has helped her progress immensely. “Onikwa now has a much calmer demeanour. She may have had crying spells because of her level of visual impairment and not being able to make sense of the world around her,” explains Monique.

It was also found that little Onikwa has hemiparesis (weakness or inability to move on one side of the body), especially on her right side. But with floor exercises and constructive play with toys like rattles and bells, Onikwa has shown significant improvement. “She will look at toys or people who appear on her right-hand side. She even plays with toys strapped on her right arm and also tries to clap her hands while playing,” reports Monique.

The team is delighted with her progress and believe that with continued support, therapy and care, Onikwa will be able to develop even further, greatly improving her quality of life.

Although Neil Armstrong coined the phrase: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Our Onikwa has proven that sometimes baby steps are just as momentous.