After a stroke: strive to be happy

We hear how Sharitha Moodley, a Type 2 diabetic, suffered a stroke over a year ago, and how her and her husband, Chico, are adapting to the life changes.

Sharitha Moodley will celebrate her 60thbirthday on 27 September. She lives in Meyersdal, Gauteng with her husband, Chico. They have one adult son and a deceased daughter.

Type 2 diabetes

In 2005, at the age of 46, Shari was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Both her parents and grandparents had Type 2 diabetes. “This is a gift I got from them,” Shari jokes.

Shari was put on Glucophage. However, that gave her diarrhoea so Glucovance (twice daily) was prescribed. Shari was also diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol and was prescribed the necessary medication.

Shari admits that she never made any lifestyle changes once diagnosed and continued smoking. “I carried on living my life as normal but my diabetes was controlled,” Shari says.

Massive stroke

The 12thAugust 2017 was just like any other day. Chico and Shari had gone about their everyday duties and then sat down to have dinner. Shari then sneezed and in that moment everything changed; she had a massive ischemic stroke caused by a plaque build-up in the carotid artery in her neck.

“I remember my body went lame and I asked Chico to hold me. He came behind me and I tried to stand up but just fell down,” Shari explains.

Chico battled for an hour to get Shari to the couch due to her weight. Plus, she was kicking and moving the right side of her body as she was panicked and frustrated. And to top it all, she needed to use the bathroom. “I was like Waltzing Matilda,” jokes Shari.

Once Chico got Shari settled, he phoned an ambulance and within half an hour Shari was taken to the nearest private hospital. While waiting for the ambulance, Shari demanded Chico to bring a mirror as she said her mouth was drooping. “I knew I had had a stroke,” Shari says

Shocking treatment

Chico and Shari feel that once Shari was in hospital, the doctors were betting what had happened to her. “Instead of getting down to the job of finding out what happened to her, they kept asking each other, ‘What do think it is?’, ‘I bet it is a transient ischemic attack (TIA).’”

Eventually Shari was sent for a CT scan. However, the blockage could not be picked up. Thereafter an MRI was done, but still the blockage was not located. “It was a small machine (carotid ultrasound) that finally picked up the blockage in her neck,” Chico explains.

By this time, Shari’s sugar levels were crazy so she was put on insulin to stabilise them. Blood thinners were also prescribed.

During the four-day stay in the hospital, not once did a neurologist see Shari and to date – no doctor has told Shari what type of stroke she had. Everything Shari and Chico know about her stroke, they have researched themselves.

Shari came home once she was discharged from hospital, only to be rushed back to hospital again two days later. “It felt like I was having a heart attack and I couldn’t breathe,” Shari explains. Though, luckily, it turned out to be indigestion from eating pawpaw and pineapple.

The long road of rehabilitation

A nearby private rehabilitation centre was suggested by family. Shari was booked in for two weeks, but the couple weren’t happy with the level of care that was offered. So, Shari was moved to a private rehab centre in Pietermaritzburg (where Chico and Shari are from) for two months. At least here, Chico had the support of his family, plus some members of Shari’s family.

Here Shari underwent what she calls a rollercoaster of recovery. She had to do exercises every day even though most days she was in such agony. Added to that, Shari was struggling emotionally. Today, she still finds it hard to accept the results of the stroke.

The doctors suggested she go on an anti-depressant but Shari was adamant to not rely on medication. She knew through her own life’s obstacles – her daughter passed away at the age of nine after being diagnosed with cerebral atrophy at age four – that one needs to face life head on. “I thought I had learnt all of this in life, but no, life has its curve balls. I have learnt a hell of a lot from having a stroke. It has taught me to keep my sanity above all,” Shari says.

Progress made

In Chico opinion’s it was the three occupational therapists at the Pietermaritzburg rehab that have gotten Shari where she is today. “If Shari told them she was tired, they would push to make her finish the whole session. If she started crying, they would hug her and comfort her. They were really supportive,” Chico adds.

After those two months of therapy, Shari could sit up straight whereas before she would fall to the left. She stands with the help of someone and can be moved from bed to wheelchair easily. Unfortunately, she still can’t move her left leg or arm but has slight sensation in her toes and fingers. But the Moodleys haven’t given up hope and trust to see Shari walking again.

In contrast, Chico feels the physiotherapist was useless. “He would just walk in, ask how she is and press a bit on her body and then leave,” Chico explains.

Above all, Shari’s speech has seen the best improvement; her mind is still as sharp as a whip and her sense of humour still has everyone in stitches.

Unbeknown warning sign

Unbeknown to Shari, she had a warning sign. Two weeks before the stroke, after she got out of the shower and was dressing, when she tried to get up from pulling her pants up, she couldn’t. In those few seconds, she felt ‘very strange’. It passed quickly and soon she was feeling normal again.

Only once she explained this to a doctor after the massive stroke, was she told that this was a warning sign, a mini-stroke (TIA) and that she should have gone straight to the hospital.

“We didn’t know that then. But we do now and that is our reason for sharing our story, in hopes of helping other by informing them of the warning signs,” Chico and Shari say.

Coming home

At first, Chico was worried about the townhouse being too small but they both have adapted brilliantly. A motorised wheelchair was donated and a normal wheelchair was given by another family member. Chico bought a sturdy chair for Shari to sit on in the shower, while he assists her. They have a domestic worker, who Chico leaves with Shari if he needs to pop out to the shop, but other than that Chico is Shari’s caregiver every minute of the day.

It was only once Shari was home that her blood glucose levels normalised; throughout the rehab stay insulin was being administrated.

The couple still go away for weekends, visit the casino and socialise with family. “We are not going to stop our lives, we must carry on,” Shari says.

Since the stroke, Shari has stopped smoking. In fact, she can’t stand the smell of it and now Chico must smoke outside. It took a good few months for Shari’s appetite to come back after the stroke. And, in that time, she lost roughly 20 kilograms.

With regards to food, Chico is the one who advocates and pushes Shari to eat healthy and avoid fatty foods. Now that Shari’s appetite is back with a vengeance, this is where love spats emerge. Though, the two have such a beautiful relationship that they can laugh about their quarrels later.

Shari misses cooking the most. “I am Indian and I love Indian food. I remember when I was in hospital, I had a Norwegian dietitian telling me what I should eat. What does a Norwegian know about Indian food?” Shari laughs. “But Chico has become a good cook now with my instructions.”

Her man by her side

Her dear husband, Chico, has played a colossal role in her recovery. “He never gives up on me,” Shari adds. Every day, Chico would arrive at the rehab at 5am and only leave at 11pm in the evening. With every exercise that was done, Chico was there to learn how it was done so he would know how to do it when they came back home.

“She is my queen, I made a vow in sickness and in health,” Chico says. “How are you going to enjoy the good times if you don’t go through bad times? You have to accept life and move on.”

Chico admits that at the time of Shari’s stroke, he was so overwhelmed by everyone’s advice. “I got told to do this and do that, take her here, don’t take here there, and I was desperate. I had never been in such a situation so I just did what everyone told me. All the advice from these people – nurses, friends, family, etc. – can confuse you. They tell you about a place and you think you’re going to take her there and it is going to work like magic and she will be fine again. But, it is not like that,” Chico explains.

Never give up hope

It has been a year since the stroke but Chico and Shari still believe Shari will walk again. She continues with physiotherapy and occupational therapy. “I think of Stephen Hawkins and how much he achieved and I am inspired by him. Then Sharon Stone’s story of a seven-year recovery after her stroke also gives me hope,” Shari says. “My older sister had a TIA. Hers was a minor stroke and she made a full recovery. So, will I.”

When asked to reflect on her stroke, Shari responds while crying, “I never expected this. Chico was retiring and we were going to enjoy our life together…But I am ready for healing now. You can’t heal before acceptance sets in. I have accepted my stroke and I am ready to heal now.”


Laurelle Williams is the Editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. Feel free to email Laurelle on [email protected]

Workplace wellness – making the workplace a healthy, happy space

Corporate Wellness Week is observed in the first week of July (1-7). With this in mind, Paula Pienaar explains why workplace wellness is of vital importance.

What is corporate wellness?

Corporate, employee or workplace wellness refers to the physical and mental well-being and health of employees, their work environment and workplace culture. Understanding the significance of this concept begins by addressing the health needs of our working population.

State of the nation’s health

Recent data from Statistics SA show that 56% of all deaths annually are attributed to chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke. In fact, Type 2 diabetes mellitus is now the second most common cause of death in South Africa (5,4%), after tuberculosis (7,2%)1. The prevention and management of such chronic diseases can be largely accomplished by managing associated health risk factors which include hypertension, high blood sugar levels, high cholesterol, excess body weight and lifestyle behaviours, such as smoking, physical inactivity, poor dietary habits and poor sleep health. One estimate is that eliminating these health risk behaviours would make it possible to prevent 80% of heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes mellitus, and even 40% of cancers2.

Using the workplace to improve the nation’s health

Recent economic statistics show that 44% of South Africans are employed3 and on average, South Africans who work full-time spend more than one-third of their day, five days a week, at their workplace. It is therefore not surprising that the workplace provides an opportune setting through which a large part of the population can be helped through workplace wellness programmes. Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe, hazard-free workplace for their employees and also the opportunity to foster a happy, productive working environment by promoting a healthy lifestyle.

Workplace Wellness programmes (WWPs)

Healthy employees are more productive and have the lowest cost to organisations. WWPs therefore aim to prevent the development of chronic diseases and support employees with existing chronic medical conditions. Another way in which employees can be supported is by creating a work environment that encourages healthy lifestyle behaviours, such as having quality short breaks away from the desk, physical activity, good nutrition and no smoking. Successful, effective WWPs therefore have significant benefits to the organisation and to employees.

Workplace wellness is beneficial to:

The Organisation

The Employee

Reduces productivity loss. Reduces risk for premature death.
Reduces risk for short-term disability. Reduces risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancers, back pain, and high cholesterol.
Enhances mood and job satisfaction. Results in greater job satisfaction.
Enhances work performance. May increase annual income.
Reduces healthcare spending. Lowers debt.
Lowers employee turnover rates. Lowers long-term unemployment.

Workplace wellness – the key to a healthy, happy and productive workforce

Workplace wellness is among the most vital investments that a company can make. Businesses that start WWPs aren’t only investing in the physical wellness, safety, and mental health of their employees, but are also taking preventive measures by creating a healthier environment. A recent scientific review concluded that well-designed, comprehensive WWPs have the potential to improve heart health and to reduce mortality and disability resulting from cardiovascular disease and stroke4.

5 evidence-based strategies that have shown to work in successful WWPs:

  1. Wellness screening days (height, weight, waist circumference and finger prick blood tests).
  2. Healthy lifestyle programmes (e.g. smoking cessation, weight loss, fatigue management, and diabetes programmes).
  3. Covering or minimising co-payment of lifestyle-related health programmes.
  4. Onsite exercise facilities and informative health talks.
  5. Fully covered flu vaccinations.

Making workplace wellness enjoyable

Participation in workplace wellness initiatives may often be poor. However, research has shown that by involving employees in the roll-out of such programmes through interest-based surveys and good communication strategies, companies can play a significant role in changing employees’ attitudes to work from a dreary obligation to an exciting health-enhancing part of their day.

Strategies that organisations can take to improve 3 pillars of performance – nutrition, physical activity and adequate rest:

  1. Nutrition
    1. Review the catering menu and vending machines to gently introduce healthier options.
    2. Coordinate a ‘healthy snack of the month’ club.
  2. Physical activity
    1. Arrange for bicycle racks and provide ‘bike to work’ promotional materials.
    2. Make the area around the office building conducive to walks and try to move your meetings from the boardroom to walking paths (walking meetings).
  3. Sleep and fatigue
    1. Invite a sleep health professional to a ‘lunch and learn’ session.
    2. Create a workplace with adequate natural lighting and low noise levels.

For more information, please visit

MEET OUR EXPERT - Paula R. Pienaar

Paula R. Pienaar
Paula R. Pienaar (BSc (Med)(Hons) Exercise Science (Biokinetics)), MSc (Med) Exercise Science) is the scientific advisor to EOH Workplace Health and Wellness, and a PhD candidate at the University of Cape Town. Her scientific research relates to sleep health and managing daytime fatigue to improve workplace productivity and lower the risk of chronic disease. Her thesis will identify the link between sleep and cardiometabolic diseases (Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease) in South African employees. She aims to design a tailored sleep and fatigue management workplace health intervention to improve employee health risk profiles and enhance work productivity. Contact her at [email protected]


  1. Statistics South Africa, Mortality and causes of death in South Africa, 2015: Findings from death notification. 2017: Pretoria:SSA.
  2. Lloyd-Jones DM, Hong Y, Labarthe D, et al. Defining and setting national goals for cardiovascular health promotion and disease reduction: the American Heart Association’s strategic Impact Goal through 2020 and beyond. Circulation. 2010;121(4): 586-613
  4. Fonarow GC, Calitz C, Arena R, et al. Workplace wellness recognition for optimizing workplace health: a presidential advisory from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2015;131(20): e480-e497.