When Raisa Falzon woke up from a nine-month coma she lifted her right arm and placed her hand on the face of her younger brother, Miguel, who was sitting by her hospital bed.
That gentle movement was the first means of communication used by Raisa – who was then 16 – after suffering a brain haemorrhage on March 19, 2013.
Since the day she woke up, in mid-December, Raisa has been working tirelessly to re-learn how to communicate. The 18-year-old understands everything that is said to her and her memory was not affected by the haemorrhage that, however, led to a neurological disorder hindering her speech and movement.
She attends speech therapy and occupational therapy sessions once a week and goes to physiotherapy twice weekly.
“It’s [the therapy] helping a lot,” the young woman says, slowly, in Maltese. There are pauses between words but she manages to voice her message: “You shouldn’t give up.”
On March 19, 2013, Raisa was out with her father and some friends when she started complaining of a severe headache. Her father took her to hospital where they realised she had suffered a haemorrhage. She spent three months in intensive therapy.
After that, she remained in a coma until December 2013 when she woke up and was “reborn”.
Like a newborn baby, she explains with the help of her Filipino carer, she had to re-learn how to move, talk and eat.
There are pauses between words but she manages to voice her message
Her speech has improved but, until she gets to the stage when she can speak fluently, she also communicates in writing.
She uses her perfectly manicured right hand to type anything she wants to express and communicate with friends on social media. She is even learning a couple of words in Filipino from her carer Rhea Belara, and she cheekily utters a rude word to illustrate her point – and break the ice.
Looking to the future, Raisa says she wishes to go to London. Anywhere in particular?
“Madame Tussauds,” she replies adding that she particularly wants to see the wax figures of the UK boy band One Direction. Before I leave she has something else to add.
Tomorrow, she says, she is going to be getting a tattoo. “Never give up,” she says as she voices the three words she will tattoo on her right arm – the first limb of her body to wake up into her new life.
There is always hope – expert
Advances in the diagnosis and therapy available to people who acquire a neurological disorder mean there is always hope, according to consultant neurologist Josanne Aquilina.
A neurological disorder is any disorder of the body’s nervous system. Once a person is diagnosed a multidisciplinary team is brought in depending on their needs. These people may include speech therapists who help the patient re-learn how to communicate and eat safely.
Acquired neurological communication disorders can occur in individuals following a stroke, head injury or progressive neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and dementia.
Dr Aquilina will give a presentation on the subject in the foyer of Mater Dei Hospital tomorrow on occasion of Speech Language Therapy Day.
The event, which will be held between 8am and 1pm, is organised by the Association of Speech Language Pathologists Malta – which this year celebrates its 30-year anniversary – in collaboration with the Speech Language Pathology Department within the Health Division.
This year’s theme is acquired neurological communication disorders. During the event the public will be able to attend short talks on the subject.
There will be stands with representatives of voluntary organisations that offer services to individuals with acquired neurological disorders.