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]