By Christine Barasa
It is the hope of every expectant mother that she will give birth to a bouncing baby boy or girl devoid of any complications or disabilities. The sad reality, however, is that some mothers will have children with one handicap or the other. When this is perceived to be the works of God, it is easier to accept the truth as opposed to cases arising from human error and other avoidable circumstances. In the latter, anger, bitterness and rejection of the child are often experienced.
Most cases of cerebral palsy (C.P) – a disability caused by neurological brain damage resulting from injury, infections or lack of oxygen in the brain – can be avoided if care is observed during pregnancy, at birth and after birth. Unfortunately, in many African countries, CP is shrouded in mystery and myths alleging witchcraft and bad omens. It is this ignorance that has brought untold suffering on afflicted people and seen many locked away from the public and denied their basic human rights and dignity.
In cerebral palsy, the part of the brain that is damaged is that which controls movement and muscle co-ordination. Thus, depending on the degree of damage, a CP sufferer exhibits multiple handicaps where one may be unable to move, sit, walk, speak or carry out activities of daily living such as washing, eating or even toiletry. It comes without saying then, that they are wholly dependent and need support around the clock.
So, how can you protect your child from contracting this irreversible condition? The answer is simple: Information.
The first step is for expectant mothers to faithfully attend ante-natal clinics in order to monitor development of the foetus. Any anomalies detected can be nipped in the bud to ensure normal growth. Further, simple instructions to keep away from smoking, alcohol, drugs and non-prescription medication should be followed to the letter since intoxication from these substances damages brain cells of the baby. In addition, good quality nutrition and eating a balanced diet is a boost to the well-being of the baby.
Once the pregnancy has been carried to term successfully, the next step is to ensure safe delivery. It is advisable that the baby (whether first or subsequent ones) be born in a hospital or well equipped health centre. This should be the case, even in an otherwise trouble-free pregnancy, as it makes early intervention possible in the event of complications arising. The dangers to look out for during the birth process include prolonged labour, strangulation by the umbilical cord and breech presentation, all of which can be resolved by emergency caesarian operation. Birth asphyxia – where the baby does not cry immediately after birth – is also an indication that all is not well.
Cerebral palsy may also strike after safe delivery; so do not throw all caution to the wind yet. Infections and diseases that affect the nervous system like jaundice, meningitis, encephalitis or inflammation of the brain and hydrocephalus (excessive production of, or accumulation of cerebral-spinal fluid in the brain) among others, are key causes of postpartum CP. The secret here is early diagnosis and treatment.
Therefore, besides religiously keeping your post-natal clinic appointments, any signs of ill health in the infant should be referred to a doctor as soon as possible. Avoid self medication since time is of essence in keeping CP at bay. Also of necessity is ensuring safety of your child at home because accidents or trauma to the brain arising from bad falls could lead to CP.
In the unfortunate event that your child contracts CP from any of the causes highlighted, seek help. Denial is OK since discovering that your child has CP is, to say the least, devastating. The undoing would be to blame yourself and wallow in pity for too long. Cerebral Palsy Society of Kenya (CPSK) offers counseling and support to families of afflicted children in enabling them accept the condition of their child. The Society also provides specialized therapy and rehabilitation services, as well as training workshops on management of CP. Once again, the sooner you seek these services, the better. Success stories of children whose early intervention saw them learn to sit, walk and speak abound. Your child could achieve these milestones too.