From paralysed teen to master of movement

Quintin van Jaarsveld follows the journey of Yusuf Price who became a biokineticist after a paralysing neck injury

A freak neck injury during rugby practice changed Yusuf Price’s life in more ways than one, with a remarkable journey during which he went from a paralysed teenager to a master of movement.

On September 19, 2001, during training at Primrose Rugby Club, a collision after an ankle- tap left 16-year-old Yusuf motionless. The promising flank had suffered a compression fracture of his C5 vertebra.

Almost 21 years on and a world removed from the perils of a frightening three-month period of paralysis, Cape Town-based Yusuf remarks: “I’m very fortunate that I never lost feeling in my body. Even right after I got hurt and went to the hospital, I could feel the doctor touching my leg, but I couldn’t tell with what he was touching me.”

After an agonising week in intensive care and a successful neck fusion at Southern Cross Hospital, the teenager, now using a wheelchair, faced an uncertain future, starting with four months of intense rehabilitation at the same facility.

Four weeks in, the Norman Henshilwood High School Grade 10 learner regained the use of his right hand – a major moment. But, the turning point came two months later.

“It happened by accident,” Yusuf explaines. “I loved swimming as a kid and it was a nice day outside, so my physiotherapist suggested we try to go into the pool as a change of therapy.

“We did, and to our surprise, I was able to move my right leg! That was the moment when I thought to myself, ‘You can really do this! You can stand and walk and get out of the wheelchair’. And I went all out from there,” he adds.

It was far from an instant turnaround. Rehabilitation was ramped up, but it planted the seeds for what would go on to define and see him reach unthinkable heights – an unwavering willingness to do the hard work day in and day out to achieve his goals.

“By the time school started the following year, I was able to walk with two crutches, quite slow at first, but with ongoing treatment, I gradually got stronger, and by Grade 12, I walked with one crutch up until my last year of university,” Yusuf says.

As fate would have it, it’s due to the very injury that so drastically altered his life that he found his calling. Yusuf recalls: “While going through rehab and talking with the physiotherapists, I became fascinated with movement and exercise. I realised that’s the field I wanted to work in one day.”

He matriculated in 2003 and bursaries from both the Chris Burger Petro Jackson Players’ Fund and Ashcroft Fund afforded him an opportunity to pursue his professional dream by enrolling at the University of the Western Cape where he graduated with an undergraduate degree in Sport Recreation and Science in 2006, and an honours degree in biokinetics the following year.

Although he finally ‘graduated’ from using a crutch to walking unassisted at the same time, he still had limitations in the form of neurological fallout, which he lives with to this day.

“I can’t do fine motor skills with my left hand and experience phantom pains as well. So, I wear a glove to help with that and I wear a splint on my left leg. The Players’ Fund, who’d sponsored my wheelchair and first splint, also sponsored the carbon fibre splint I’m wearing now, which is much lighter and easier to walk with,” Yusuf says.

In an active field, limitations present challenges, which he solved with such aplomb that he rose to the top of the 2008 class of interns at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA) where he’s been a staple ever since.

As senior biokineticist, he specialises in geriatric and cardiac rehabilitation and has come full circle by improving the quality of life of others.

“It’s an honour to be part of the team, but as much as it is an accomplishment for me, I take my hat off to SSISA for not judging a book by its cover and giving me an opportunity to prove my worth as an intern,” Yusuf says.

While he’s admittedly more fortunate than most of the 100 other Players’ Fund recipients, he was able to obtain a position and thrives despite not making a “full” recovery, which he believes makes him living proof that life after a life-changing injury isn’t black or white.

“You can still achieve what you set out to do, as long as you work hard,” he commentes. Yusuf, however, stresses he wouldn’t be where he is today without the support of his family and the Players’ Fund.

“The Players’ Fund’s played such a big role in my life, as has my parents, family and friends. It means a lot to me knowing that there’s always someone there who supports me and I cannot thank them enough,” Yusuf concludes.

Should you wish to support the Players’ Fund in anyway, please contact either Gail or Aashia on contact@playersfund.org.za

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