Specialized computer could help paralyzed mom communicate with kids again

Nadine Duffney, a 36-year-old single mother of two from Lunenburg, N.S., was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis in December and is now paralyzed from the neck down.

Nadine Duffney was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis in December and can't move from the neck down

Nadine Duffney with her children. (Nadine Duffney/Facebook)

A Nova Scotia family is hoping a specialized computer will help a woman communicate with her children again.

Nadine Duffney, a 36 year-old single mother from Lunenburg, N.S., was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis in December and is now paralyzed from the neck down.

Denise Hall said the only way her sister can communicate is by moving her face — blinking and moving her eyes.

"This computer has the technology to track eye movement and that eye movement will move the mouse and allow her to type or be able to text her daughter and son and stay part of their lives," she said.

'She can't talk back'

Meningitis is an infection around the lining of the brain and spinal cord. In Duffney's case, it damaged her spinal cord beyond repair. She can no longer speak because she had a tracheotomy and is on a breathing machine.

Hall said her sister's kids are struggling. After their grandmother took them to their apartment to pick up some belongings, the little boy broke down. 

"Her daughter is having a really hard time and the little guy is, well .... that night he cried himself all night to sleep. It's hard because he talks to his mom but she can't talk back," Hall said.

The computer the family is considering buying is from the company Tobii Dynavox. The family set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to buy it. As of Sunday afternoon, the page has raised $3,790 of its $5,000 goal.

It may be the first of several fundraisers.

"There's a proper wheelchair she'll need, a portable ventilator and all this costs thousands and thousands of dollars just for her to basically be able to survive," said Shelly Penny, another of Duffney's sisters.

Communication needed

Penny said it would mean so much the family and Duffney to communicate again.

"Besides her children she would have a feeling that you know if everybody is behind me so much and I can communicate, this is a reason to keep fighting and to stay alive," said Penny.

Hall said Duffney went to the emergency room at the Bridgewater Hospital on Dec, 9, 2017 and was paralyzed by Dec. 13.

Penny said her sister will have to spend the rest of her life in hospital because 24-hour care at home would be too expensive. 

"She's very depressed, that's the hardest part. You can see the sadness in her. She cries a lot and her life is between a bed and a chair," said Hall.

Seek help early

Hall is hoping her sister's story will encourage others to seek help faster if they suspect they have meningitis. It is contagious and is usually spread by close contact involving coughing, sneezing, kissing or sharing dishes or cutlery.

"It can appear like the flu but unfortunately can progress faster than that, in this case to the extreme," Hall said. "I understand it can also cause death but it can also do this."

Penny said her it would be helpful to talk to other people who are going through or have gone through the same thing.

"We've met with the doctors but it's still, we don't know where to go or where to look for support," Penny said. 

Duffney's situation has "shaken the family in many different ways," Hall said.

"We have to really pull it together and empty her apartment. We have to have that done by next weekend. You've got to deal with all the open ends," she said.

About the Author

Anjuli Patil


Anjuli Patil is a reporter and occasional video journalist with CBC Nova Scotia's digital team.