. . . as widow grapples with taking care of special needs child
SEHLABENG – Trapped in a body of a newborn baby, little Ntšeliseng Taaso only weighs 4.3 kilograms even though it is now 36 months after her birthdate.
Despite her increasing age, Ntšeliseng has remained physically and cognitively similar to a newborn. Her head has grown faster than the rest of the body, and now weighs heavily over her gaunt torso. However, unlike a newborn, she cannot make any movements since her spinal cord is stiff while her elbow and knee joints are rigid.
As if her physical challenges were not formidable enough, Ntšeliseng – which loosely translated means comfort me – also has to contend with harsh living conditions. Ntšeliseng’s mother died moments after giving birth to her in June 2013, leaving her in the care of her unemployed grandmother ‘Mathabiso Taaso.
Narrating her predicament, Ms Taaso (63) told the Lesotho Times she never expected to become a grandmother for the third time in June 2013 as Ntšeliseng’s mother had concealed the pregnancy. The 63-year old said she already had a lot on her plate taking care of her two other orphaned grandchildren aged 12 and six.
“I never knew that Ntšeliseng’s mother was pregnant until the month of June in 2013 when she complained of severe stomach cramps. We rushed her to Tšepong (Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital) where she died immediately after giving birth to Ntšeliseng,” Ms Taaso said.
“Shortly after her birth, Ntšeliseng was put in an incubator, and a few days later, she was released into my care. Ntšeliseng’s weight was 2.4 kg at birth but today she only weighs 4.3 kg after two years and six months.”
Ms Taaso said she never got the opportunity to grieve for her deceased daughter with medical bills to settle and a funeral to arrange. Added to that, she also needed to take care of her physically challenged granddaughter.
“Up to now, we still have not yet managed to pay off all the medical and burial debts from 2013. As a result, we are also not able to provide food meal for little Ntšeliseng, which might be aggravating her condition,” she said.
“All we can afford is 2.5 kg of bread flour per month which we use to make her a soft porridge which is neither nutritious nor tasty.”
Bursting into tears, Ms Taaso said she initially could not understand why her grandchild was not growing “normally” as other babies do.
On top of the physical exhaustion of once again taking care of three children in her sixties, she also felt emotionally overwhelmed by Ntšeliseng’s condition.
“I suffered in silence and alone. I even resorted to hiding the child from prying eyes. I told those people who managed to see her that she was three months-old when she was over seven months. I didn’t want people to even hold her,” Ms Taaso said.
“I took Ntšeliseng to so many doctors who turned out to be bogus since they lied to me that she would walk one day. It was only after meeting a Paballong HIV/Aids Care Centre counselor (Matete Letsoso) that I began to accept her situation.”
Because of the generosity of well-wishers in her community, Ms Taaso no longer spends sleepless nights wondering where her granddaughter’s next meal will come from.
“Since Ntšeliseng started drinking nutritious milk donated by ‘M’e ‘Malichaba Lekhoaba, she looks much better. We survive on donations from Paballong HIV/Aids Care Centre, good Samaritans like ‘M’e ‘Malichaba and my neighbours,” she said.
Ntšeliseng was also a recipient of a special positioning chair on 19 December 2015, courtesy of Medical Orthotist and Prosthetist Chabeli Mohatlane.
“The special positioning chair has enabled her to move around and we are very thankful to Ntate Mohatlane,” she said.
However, Ms Taaso said she was still far from being able to take care of Ntšeliseng’s needs, and urged well-wishers to come to her aid.
“Any help will be appreciated. Giving Ntšeliseng a balanced diet and a good place to stay should be the least we can do, but due to poverty we cannot,” she said.
On her part, Ms Letsoso described Ms Taaso as a tenacious woman who was willing to “go to the ends of the earth” to assist her granddaughter.
“I started working with this family in 2014 and when I saw Ntšeliseng for the first time in January of that year. At the time, her grandmother said she was three months-old,” Ms Letsoso said.
“Towards the end of 2014, Nkhono (grandmother) ‘Mathabiso claimed Ntšeliseng was seven months-old and that was when I realised there was a problem and demanded to have a meeting with her.
“On the first day I visited her house, Nkhono ‘Mathabiso broke down in tears and it immediately became apparent that she had been fighting a lone battle.”
“Nkhono ‘Mathabiso is a strong woman who just needs help to feed Ntšeliseng and her two other orphaned grandchildren,” she said.