-Article was written by Teresa Hattan

Gerda Krukerink’s tale of rehabilitation is one of strength and determination.

The Matamata woman has spent the past five years learning to walk and move again after contracting meningitis and suffering a stroke.

It was 2009 and Krukerink and her husband were visiting their son in Perth. Returning to New Zealand via Melbourne, Krukerink became unwell. She was later diagnosed with meningitis. “They took me off the plane because I was not reacting normally.” Krukerink stayed at a motel after a doctor told her to “sleep it off” but her husband didn’t trust that diagnosis. He knew something was wrong. “He took me to another doctor and they put me in a hospital and during the night they found out I had meningitis.” She was stuck in another country, in a coma, battling for her life. Krukerinkisn’t sure how long she was in a coma for. It was possibly two weeks before she woke up. She then slipped back into a coma after a stroke. Krukerink said it was disorienting to wake up first in one hospital then wake up in another. She didn’t know where she was.

All she could remember was getting on the plane in Perth but this is the last thing she can recall. “Waking up in that first hospital, I just didn’t know. They always ask ‘where are you, what day is it?’ I couldn’t remember anything.” Along with not knowing where she was, Krukerink couldn’t do anything. “I could just blink my eyes. They said ‘blink once for yes and twice for no.” By the second or third day, Krukerink could mover her fingers slightly and was able to write. For a while, this was her only mode of communication. Talking was difficult because of the stroke.

It’s now been a number of years and Krukerink is recovering. It’s a slow process but reaching milestones such as being able to lift her walker into the car by herself make recovery that bit easier. Getting her license back was also a big achievement as it gave her back her independence. She no longer has to rely on friends and family to get her places. Krukerink works with Sport Waikato active and well co-ordinator Tui Priest at Pohlen Hospital on a regular basis. The pair work on rehabilitation through physical activity to get Krukerink moving again. “I think when you don’t do exercise you go backwards,” Krukerink said. Her life is now all about improving. “That’s the only way to do it, otherwise you’re still the same.”

Priest said Krukerink’s improvements over the past four years have been astonishing. She has worked extremely hard to get to where she is today. “The first day she drove up to our facility by herself, she was greeted by a standing ovation and it bought tears to my eyes. She has come so far.” Priest said Krukerink’s journey has been a tough challenge. “But we’re all so proud of her.”

The equipment and programme the pair work with is free for the community thanks to a generous grant from COGS (Community Organisation Grant Scheme).