Contracting TB leads to NMMU’s first-ever Master’s in Dietetics

APRIL 20, 2016

Lying in a hospital bed fighting for her life, Ingrid Oxley would never have believed that Tuberculosis would change her life for the good – and contribute to her becoming NMMU’s first ever Master’s in Dietetics graduate.

In 2011 while working as a dietician at a public hospital in Port Elizabeth, 30-year-old Ingrid contracted Tuberculosis (TB).

After completing the treatment, she was cured of TB. However, she was hospitalised the very next year displaying TB symptoms again, this time more severe. Tests later revealed she was infected with pre-extensively drug-resistant TB (pre-XDR TB).

Ingrid, now a junior lecture in NMMU’s dietetics department, spent 75 days in hospital, a month in ICU and at a stage slipped into a coma due to liver failure from the TB medication.

“While in a coma my family was advised to travel from Pretoria to say goodbye to me. But people were praying for me and I miraculously awoke from the coma.”   

The two years that followed proved to be very challenging for Ingrid. Weighing a mere 47kg, she was often too weak to walk and became dependent on her husband Jonathan, her friends and family, to care for her.

Her 24-month long treatment, which consisted of nearly 30 different medications per day had side-effects which often made her very ill.

“My whole life had changed, I felt like a massive wave had just crashed over me. I dont think a healthy person could ever imagine how it feels to be so sick. Sometimes I think to myself, did this really happen?”

Ingrid gave up her job working at the state hospitals and was later employed as a part-time research assistant to NMMU Research Associate Dr Liana Steenkamp.

“Dr Steenkamp was amazing – she gave me a fresh start. I was stuck in my flat, I couldn’t walk, or drive so she brought the work to me in the flat. She ignited my love for research and I am so grateful for the opportunities she gave me.”

Dr Steenkamp encouraged Ingrid to pursue her Master’s degree. Ingrid rose to the challenge and in 2014 began her thesis titled: “Knowledge, attitudes and experiences of dieticians in relation to Tuberculosis at the workplace.”

“My TB journey is precious to me. It’s very humbling to be so dependent and weak but strangely, I’m glad it happened to me – now I can relate to a massive portion of the South African population.

“I keep thinking, if it was so tough for me and I had resources and strong support from family, how difficult must it be for the poor and marginalised?”

She is actively involved in TB advocacy and belongs to an organisation called TB Proof, where health workers aim to break down the stigma of TB. They encourage people with symptoms to get tested as soon as possible – the sooner treatment is started, the safer your loved ones will be.

“I finished my treatment two years ago but sitting in my wheelchair, I never thought life would be so good. It’s just incredible when you realise just how much you have to be grateful for.”

Ingrid often uses her experience to encourage her students at NMMU to go the extra mile and show empathy for the patients they will care for.

Over the last few years NMMU has expanded its healthcare training programmes, to address urgent needs in support of the nation's healthcare demands. This year also marks the graduation of NMMU’s first group of dietetics students.

Image: Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University junior lecturer Ingrid Oxley – who was infected with pre-XDR TB so severe she ended up in a coma – graduated with NMMU’s first master’s degree in Dietetics. Supplied