She was born healthy but at just eight months old, Capri Laine suffered a stroke that would change her life forever.
At first her parents, Claudia (37) and Schalk (37) Engelbrecht from Durban, weren’t aware of what had happened to her. But when they noticed she had a “lazy arm” they decided to consult a doctor.
Speaking out for the first time two years after their daughter’s traumatic experience, the Engelbrechts said they took Capri to Durban physician Dr Ridwan Omar who told them their daughter, who’s now six, had suffered a stroke and urgently needed to see a neurologist.
“The MRI came back stating that Capri had suffered a stroke which had caused severe scar tissue on her right middle cerebrum,” Claudia says.
“She was at this stage totally left-side challenged. Her brain didn’t recognise that she had a left arm and hand and she began using her mouth with her right hand. It was then confirmed that she had cerebral palsy. She’s hemiplegic.”
The Engelbrechts were forced to adapt to a new way of living. But their world would be shaken once more – because a year and a half later Capri started suffering severe seizures.
“It was insane not knowing whether she was going to make it,” Claudia recalls.
“She suffered what I call vegetative-like seizures, where she’d be in a vegetable state for anything between four and six hours. She’d have between 12 and 15 seizures in that time.”
Claudia found it hard to cope but knew she had to be strong for her daughter.
“I didn’t have time to work through my feelings because at that time I just needed to be her mom. You have to do what you need to do.
“We did every test we could, we had her on all possible meds thinkable. But the day before her fifth birthday she had the worst seizure ever. Her godparents, who witnessed the event, persuaded us to try cannabis oil.”
They were reluctant at first but finally, on 8 November 2016, they gave it a go.
After trying the oil, which is said to have healing properties, Capri had just two more seizures (on 7 December 2016) which lasted for 15 minutes each.
Her parents say she hasn’t suffered another attack since. Whether this is because of the cannabis oil they can’t say. “She’s been seizure-free since and has stopped using the cannabis oil,” Claudia says.
“My support system was huge. You can’t do it alone. There are many days where you break down, where you just don’t know how you’re going to get through this.
“We had my mom, family from Johannesburg, Schalk’s family and friends who carried us through this. We’d just started a business at the time her attacks started so it was quite stressful. If it weren’t for family and friends I don’t think we would’ve been here.”
Today little Capri is a healthy, confident little girl who attends a mainstream school and participates in sports
“My advice for parents who are going through the same thing or something similar is to breathe and take it one hour at a time, one day at a time – literally,” Claudia says. “Things do get better over time, even if it doesn’t feel that way.”
One thing the Engelbrechts avoid at all cost is to treat Capri differently from her brother, Schuydon (8).
“We’re hard on Capri. She doesn’t get away with tantrums. We discipline her exactly the same as Schuydon.”
The six-year-old dreams of becoming a famous actress. She’s also interested in modelling but because of her arm she’s experienced difficulties getting into the industry.
However, she recently did a shoot with Angela Val Verde Reikert from On Camera Acting (OCA) Studio in Durban, after which the company awarded her a bursary and Capri is now studying at OCA.
Capri also has a Facebook page called Ocean Love which she started to create awareness of the importance of saving marine life.
“She now has some use of her left hand and we’re working on strengthening it,” Claudia says. “Her arm works well and although she has a limp – her left limbs are shorter than her right – it doesn’t stop her at all.”