Epilepsy comes from the ancient Greek verb “to seize possess or afflict”. The disorder is typically characterized by epileptic seizures which can vary from almost undetectable spasms to violent shaking and uncontrollable movements. The seizures tend to recur and are more common as people age. About 5-10% of all people will have an unprovoked seizure by the age of 80!

The causes of epilepsy are largely unknown, although the disorder may be a result of a brain injury, stroke, brain tumour or drug and alcohol abuse. Commonly, epileptic seizures are controlled with medication although in some instances dietary changes can be beneficial too.


Seizures can be characterized into different types: convulsive seizures can be either generalized or partial and an example of non-convulsive seizures include absence seizures (which presents as a decreased level of consciousness and only lasts for seconds).

First Aid Management:

1. Always stay with the person until the seizure is over
• Seizures can be unpredictable and it’s hard to tell how long they may last or what will occur during them. Some may start with minor symptoms, but lead to a loss of consciousness or fall. Other seizures may be brief and end in seconds.
• The person having the seizure may injure themselves and may need extra assistance from other people

2. Pay attention to the length of the seizure
• The seizure should NOT last more than 5 minutes
• Note how long it takes the person to recover and return to their usual activity
• Stay calm! Most seizures only last a few minutes. Do not panic as this may cause others to panic. Reassure the person having the seizure (this also helps to reassure yourself!)

3. Prevent injuries by moving nearby objects out of the way

4. Make the person as comfortable as possible
• Help them to sit down in a safe place
• Try and place them in the recovery position (on their side with the mouth pointing down)
• Support their head to prevent it from hitting the floor

5. Do not put anything into the person’s mouth
• It is impossible to swallow your own tongue, even when you are having a seizure
• If you put something into the mouth of the person having the seizure, they will most likely bite it. This could be disastrous if it happens to be your fingers.

6. Make sure that their breathing is okay
• It may look as if their breathing has stopped for awhile and the person may even turn blue. This is because the chest muscles tighten during a specific phase in the seizure. As this part of the seizure ends, the muscles will relax again and breathing will resume although it may be a bit ragged and uneven at first

7. Do not give the person any water, food or pills by mouth until they are fully alert
• The person may swallow incorrectly and choke

8. Be sensitive and supportive and ask others to do the same
• Seizures can be frightening for everybody and also embarrassing for the person experiencing one. Remember this when they wake up.


• A seizure lasts 5 minutes or longer.
• One seizure occurs right after another without the person regaining consciousness or coming to between seizures.
• Seizures occur closer together than usual for that person.
• Breathing becomes difficult or the person appears to be choking.
• The seizure occurs in water.
• Injury may have occurred.
• The person asks for medical help.

Authored by: Steven C. Schachter | MD
Reviewed by: Patricia O. Shafer RN MN on 2/2014

Compiled by Rowan Robinson
Manager: Agriculture and Special Project

Brain Injuries

Our brain defines who we are but, the consequences of a brain injury can affect all aspects of our lives, including our personality.

A brain injury is very different from breaking a bone. The body is able to rebuild bone by producing new cells and tiny blood vessels which close up the break until it’s as good as new. However, brain injuries do not heal like other injuries. Recovery is a functional recovery, based on mechanisms that remain uncertain.

Since our brain defines who we are, one of the unfortunate consequences of brain injury is that the person often does not realize that a brain injury has occurred. We saw this with one of our learners who had been involved in a serious car accident. He sadly remembered his life only before the accident and what he was capable of. He remembered that he was an Engineering student, but struggled to accept that he no longer could continue in this field. This disorientation affected his ability to function on a daily basis. Staff members at I Can! were able to find him a suitable psychiatrist who was able to stabilize him. We are delighted to report that he is improving daily to the point where he acknowledges his injury and has learnt not only to accept it, but to manage life around his disability.

Natascha Mc Allister
Operations Manager – KZN

The Day a Stroke Changed my Life

After a long day at work, I got home and threw myself on the bed as I was very tired. After few minutes of battling to sleep I realised that my right hand side was numb.

I was shocked when I realized my right hand side including my eye, hand and leg were not functioning. I tried screaming for help but I couldn’t shout. Fortunately my cousin walked into the room and called for assistance. After a few minutes I saw myself in the hospital, a doctor in front of me telling me that I had been hit by a stroke.

This encounter change my entire life; from that day I had a permanent disability: hemiplegia. I couldn’t use my right hand side and I had to start relying on crutches to help me walk. It has been hard because I can’t do things the way I used too. I sometimes become anxious not knowing why, and I have to eat slowly because swallowing can be hard. At times I tend to forget things easily. It has affected a lot of other things in my life, however I am grateful that I am still alive.

I had symptoms which included a strong headache, dizziness, weakness of the right hand side and sometimes I couldn’t speak properly. I did not speak to anyone about this neither did I go see the doctor. My first advice would be for one to be aware of the symptoms, they must go and see a doctor and not ignore the signs as I did. Secondly I would advise people to maintain a healthy lifestyle which includes exercising regularly and eating healthily (a diet filled with fruits and vegetables avoiding cholesterol and saturated fat). To maintain a healthy weight, avoid smoking and to limit the intake of alcohol. Thirdly one should research as much as they can about stroke in general as there are different types of strokes.

Having a stroke does not mean it’s the end of the world. One must take the treatment as advised and for those who haven’t been affected by it – remember that prevention is better than cure. Rehab has also helped me a lot in terms of finding myself. However nothing replaces a loving family, friends and supportive facilitators at I Can! Hence I wish my learnership would never end.

Written by Anonymous

Overcoming fears at I Can!

On the 29th of January, after two days of presentation, discussions and planning from the I Can! Operations team we decided that it was time to get some fresh air – and boy did we get more than we bargained for.

Even through almost half the group have a fear of heights everyone very bravely agreed to do a canopy tour at Karloof, just outside Howick. The Karkloof Canopy tour is a unique eco-experience that takes people on a 2 hour adventure through the magnificent Karloof indigenous forest.
It involves traversing from one platform to another along a steel cable suspended up to 30m above the forest floor. Our tour started with a safety briefing followed by a “kitting up” session where harnesses, pulleys and climbing equipment were put on. This was followed by a scenic drive to the top of the Karloff valley where our adventure started.

After some serious monkeying around and gliding on a steel cable from one platform to the next everyone could officially say that they had conquered their fear of heights.
Well done team for your bravery and team spirit! You can be very proud of yourselves.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid but he who conquers that fear.”- Nelson Mandela

Madre Human
General Manager – I Can!

I Can! Swim

Having committed to swim the world’s largest open water race 2 years ago, our very own MD Ali Smeeton finally did it! She swam the Midmar Mile together with the I Can! Swim Team: I guess it’s never too late! Ali’s son, James Smeeton was the official Ambassador for I Can! and made the Down’s Syndrome community, and us all very proud. Having not had much practice and our nerves almost getting the better of us, I’m happy to report that we all made it in good time. Well done to the team and thanks to everyone for all their support, and special thanks to I Can! Farm for their hospitality.

Go Team!

Ali Smeeton, Madre Human, Natascha McAllister, Claudia Leite, James Smeeton

Anything is possible – Johannes Witbooi

This is Johannes’s motto in life. He believes in making the best out of every situation even through hardship, and he has already been tested on countless occasions throughout his young life.

He does not give up easily. His journey has been hard but he has managed to live by the life lessons his mother instilled in him. His mother taught him to always be respectful, live his life in the right manner and always aim for the best. Although his mom is no longer with us he still sings about her. He performed a very inspirational song that he himself wrote and dedicated it to his mother at the Valentine’s Day talent show held at I Can!

Johannes is a song writer, rapper and Eastern Province (EP) wrestling instructor/coach amongst many other talents. He is part of a gospel group named Truth Squad. Their main aim is to reach out and inspire the youth through music and poetry, bringing people closer to God and inspiring them to change their lives for the better. They have done amazing things to keep the youth off the streets, and were even featured on Carte Blanche a few years ago as a positive example for the youth.

He continues to thank I Can! for the opportunity he has been given to learn and change his life. He has learned to be independent and he believes that education is a key factor in preparing for a successful coaching career. He is involved in the Barmar awards talent search (gospel category).
If you wish to support him please SMS: Johannes to 35622.
We wish him all the best and hope he wins!!

Lauren Butler
Operations Manager – E Cape

News from Khulisani

With this month’s newsletter focus on epilepsy and stroke, it’s nice to be able to include a good story on the subject.

One of our ex-I Can! learners Nohlanhla Majola, suffered a stroke in her early twenties as a result of a drug addiction. She spent 12 months in a state rehabilitation institution, after which time she returned to her life with a paralysis which affects the left-hand side of her body as well as affecting her speech.

Khulisani underwent a recruitment process in December to place 28 ex-learners at host sites for BHP, during which Nohlanhla became the Squeaky Wheel – not allowing us to accept that her disability might impair her ability to work with disadvantaged and disabled children. During the selection procedure, Nohlanhla insisted that she attend an interview with the principal of one of the children’s Homes, though I suggested that she may be better suited to a position which necessitated less physical constraints.

Nohlanhla was completely open about her disability in her interview: of how she defeated a habit which nearly killed her and how determined she is to conquer any challenge. Most importantly, she spoke about how much she wanted to give back and teach/show others how disabilities can be overcome.

Remarkably (to the writer) the interviewer set about re-arranging ex-learners, who had already been appointed to positions, to facilitate the employment of Nohlanhla in the rehab unit of the care facility. She now looks after young boys who have come from a life of addiction, and is able to understand and encourage them with compassion and empathy. She has retained the physical help of one of the house gardeners when there is a chore to be done which is difficult for her.

Her story and her determination are inspirational! She teaches us that attitude and hard work, determination and a good dose of nagging are what gets us where we need to be!

Rachael Erskine

National Operations Manager – Khulisani

carot class

Finding New Buildings in the Dust of the Old

The I Can! Merrivale academy near Howick, KZN has been open for almost a year. It is the first agricultural academy in the group and has 6 classes catering for a maximum of 85 learners at full capacity.

The first group of learners, enrolled on Plant Production (NQF level 1) have almost completed their learnership. During the course of this past year they have been introduced to farming practices and have learned how to grow their own vegetables.

It was hard work at the start. The ground had to be prepared for vegetable planting and this involved many hours of weeding, digging, composting, analyzing the soil type and then adding nutrients to improve the quality of the soil. Seeds and seedlings were then planted into open vegetable gardens as well as into the newly erected vegetable tunnel.

In between class work, the learners would put on their gumboots and overalls and then tend to the rapidly growing spinach, carrot, bean and cabbage plants. Competition between groups was tough and a certain amount of bragging was noticed when some plants grew stronger than others. The learners were delighted when they realized that all harvested vegetables were theirs to take home.

We are extremely proud of our agricultural academy. It is a happy place, where you will hear songs in the morning, excited chatter throughout the day and watch a group of learners realize that you can place ABILITY before disability with astonishing results.

Watch us grow!

Rowan Robinson
Manager: Agriculture and Special Projects

a family

Day by day, Bit by bit. My journey with I Can!

As a young girl, I always knew that I would make a difference one day. I didn’t know how, what, or where I would end up; but if there was one thing I was sure of, it was that I would have a happy home and a job that I could be proud of.

Twenty years later I am married to an incredible husband, a group of the greatest supporter-friends, a bubbling little boy that is filling my life with all the shades of love, and a career that I boast about every day.

Before I joined the I Can! family, I worked in the disability sector as a program co-ordinator but I started getting so frustrated with the limited resources available for families affected by disability in the region. I decided to enrich my skills set to do something about it. Together with my number 1 supporter (my husband Charles), we enrolled into a Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA) with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Business School.

In September 2012, just under a year into the degree, I came across I Can! and knew that this was the place for me. I soon joined the company by spearheading the expansion of I Can!’s footprint into the Eastern Cape. Three years later I started academies in Port Elizabeth and East London, employed 15 full time staff members, trained 156 learners, graduated with a MBA degree and birthed a busy baby boy. People say MBA is a divorce course…well, Charles and I ended up “plus one”!

The course not only provided me with so much knowledge and insight on growing and developing a business, it equipped me with essential skills in leadership and managing a diverse team.

One of my team members brought me a note one day with the meaning of my name. It reads “Lauren, you are a believer. Regardless of what other people might think, your faith is your core devotion in life. It’s the one thing inside you that will not change even when your outside changes…”

Nothing else is truer than this. Today I am exactly the person I want to be: I am living exactly the life I had dreamed of as a little girl and day by day, bit by bit, I am making a difference.

I’ll never be able to fully express my gratitude to the management and colleagues at I Can! that have showed belief in me and helped me reach the heights I’m now soaring at.

Forever grateful,
Lauren Butler
Operations Manager: Eastern Cape


It Is Not The End Of The World

My name is Andronica Tshabalala and I am 26 years old.

At the age four I was involved in a fire explosion that took place in my granny’s house in Daveyton. I was seriously injured in my eye, and ever since that day I have lost my vision in my right eye. My life has been so difficult since then, living with a blind eye – it has not been easy.

When I went to public hospital seeking for help, they recommended an optometrist. Unfortunately I could not go due to financial constraints.

I use eye drops daily to reduce the pain, but sometimes the eye drops do not help at all. Despite this I thank God that I am still alive.

If it was not for I Can!, I don’t know where I would be. I am very blessed that I Can! came into my life and made me feel important, loved and appreciated.

I am very honoured to work at CIMSSA. I am now a permanent employee, working as a Receptionist. Management is treating me well and empowering me by sending me to trainings and paying for my studies.

All I can say is that I was blessed to be introduced to I Can!, they have done their best to help people living with disabilities.

Andronica Tshabalala
Receptionist and Learner