No-hope’ UK stroke patient rehabilitated in SA

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A stroke patient who was warned she had ‘no capacity for recovery’ by UK National Health Service (NHS) doctors is almost back to full fitness after her husband took her for rehabilitation in South Africa, reports The Daily Telegraph.

Rita Guthrie, a former laboratory chemist of Essex, was given just 30% chance of survival and left physically and mentally disabled following a haemorrhage in 2008. She could barely walk, her behaviour became erratic and she was left permanently incontinent. After two years of sporadic care by the NHS and social services, her husband David was told there was no chance she could get any better, and was advised to move her to a care home.

However, the report says, after a friend suggested the couple try a change of climate, Guthrie took his wife to Fish Hoek near Cape Town where she underwent 18 months of intensive rehabilitation over several years, which included tailor-made exercises, walking and hydrotherapy. Now Mrs Guthrie, 78, is back to full health, and has only been left with damage to her short term memory.

The report says Guthrie has written a new book, Pushing the Boundaries, to encourage other Britons in a similar situation to look elsewhere for treatment. All profits will go to stroke charities. “The experience was awful for both of us and I hate to see anyone else having to go through a similar situation,” said Guthrie. “The lack of support or practical help from the outset in the UK left Rita being diagnosed as having ‘no capacity for recovery.

“The treatment available locally for Rita in no way matched the well-documented recommendations, such as the National Stroke Strategy, for stroke recovery in the UK. Nor did I receive any form of training in how to cope as a carer.

“The South African therapists started with the positive assumption that Rita was able to recover, a full about turn from the conclusions drawn by our own health system which had taken a very negative view of her prospects.”

The report says around 152,000 people in Britain suffer a stroke each year and two thirds of those will leave hospital with a disability. But recent figures from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy found 85% of health trusts do not offer stroke victims physiotherapy within two weeks of leaving hospital. A fifth make them wait at least 13 weeks and 4% cannot offer sessions until after 18 weeks.

The report says figures by the Stroke Association show that nearly half of stroke survivors feel abandoned when they leave hospital, a finding that the charity described as “deeply concerning.” A survey of more than 1,000 patients for the charity found more than one third reported that they returned home without a care plan or appropriate support in place for their recovery. Almost half said they were not contacted by a healthcare professional when they returned home from hospital while 39% said they did not received a six-month assessment of their social care needs.

The report says Mrs Guthrie’s entire treatment programme in South Africa is estimated to have cost £20,000, less than half of the annual cost of a care home in Britain.

“It is nonsense to suggest that the straightforward therapy used in Fish Hoek could not be easily set up in the UK,” said Guthrie. “Seven years on from that trip to South Africa, Rita is almost back to full health although short term memory can be a little suspect at times.

“Apart from that she’s as fit and alert as any 78-year-old would expect to be. I’ve got my wife back. We are able to do five kilometre hikes together and she was able to nurse me when I developed pneumonia.

“It’s a sad state of affairs that Rita’s recovery relied on the manpower and expertise of another nation but I hope Pushing the Boundaries and other similar stories of fortitude can help to change our mindset in the UK.”

The Daily Telegraph report

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