In 2012, after a tragic gymnastics accident, Brandon Beack became a quadriplegic wheelchair user. While training, he lost concentration and fell off the parallel bars, missing the safety mats and landing on his head. He broke his neck at C6/ C7 spinal motion vertebrae and was left instantly paralysed from the shoulders down.
After 10 weeks of inpatient rehabilitation, the doctors told Brandon that he would be paralysed for the rest of his life and would not recover any further.
Following this diagnosis, the Beack family struggled to find an affordable outpatient facility that met Brandon’s rehabilitation needs. There were very few financially accessible outpatient facilities in South Africa that provided neurological rehabilitation. The Beacks ended up investing everything they had into getting Brandon to the Shepherd Centre in the United States.
This was a turning point in their lives. Brandon benefitted tremendously from the medical expertise, the advanced rehabilitative technology and equipment. It helped him to make a remarkable recovery. He returned to South Africa with a new mindset: determined to make the standard of medical care that he received accessible to South Africans who needed it the most.
In 2015 the Walking with Brandon Foundation was founded.
“Fewer than 20 percent of South Africans are able to afford medical aid, which means that more than 80 percent of the population rely on government funding for their healthcare needs,” explains Brandon.
“With very little access to long-term rehabilitation, few people are able to make significant recovery following an injury. The sad reality is that many remain confined to their homes, unemployed and with low levels of physical activity.”
The Walking with Brandon Foundation offers advanced outpatient rehabilitation to individuals with neurological conditions and physical disabilities.
“Our programmes offer an all-inclusive and holistic approach to therapy by offering motivation, help and guidance through a peer support programme. It is also a multidisciplinary facility for clients to have access to biokinetics, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists,” explains Brandon.
The Foundation is the first of its kind to offer these specialised facilities and services at an affordable cost in South Africa.
In 2018, the Walking with Brandon Foundation was a finalist at the SAB Foundation Social Innovation and Disability Empowerment Awards. It was awarded R350 000 in seed funding, which was used to further establish the Foundation and create awareness around the work that they do.
This year (2020), they received a further R300 000 from the SAB Foundation COVID-19 Relief Fund, which was set up to assist SAB Foundation beneficiaries whose businesses were severely impacted by the lockdown. These funds enabled them to pay for their operational expenses and keep the doors open during the pandemic.
“The SAB Foundation has assisted us in so many ways, not just financially, but also with their mentorship programme,” says Brandon. “Our mentor was, and still is, our rock for advice and guidance whenever we need it.
“The use of the legal team and the guidance and funding for the redesign of our website and social media has been really beneficial, improving our brand image and public relations with different forms of media.”
The SAB Foundation’s support made it possible for the Walking with Brandon Foundation to find their own premises and develop their own team. Currently they employ 11 employees: five biokineticists, two interns, a physiotherapist, a occupational therapist, a speech therapist and an administrator. They recently also increased their executive board to include a PR and media executive.
Eight years after his accident, Brandon is slowly adapting to his new life as an individual with a disability. He says that his family and friends have been the greatest support structure in his life, and his disability has forced him to look at life differently by appreciating the small things he took for granted before his accident.
“The past few years have been the toughest years to date,” he explains. “I lost my independence and was reliant on a caregiver to do everything for me: dress me, feed me, assist me with my toilet routine and drive me around.”
Brandon is also constantly learning how to tackle the issues that come with disability. “My family had to move to a new house to accommodate my wheelchair, as I needed a single level house so I could move around,” he says. “I drive a car with hand controls, and finding for accessible parking bays is always a challenge.”
Even though Brandon’s life took an unexpected turn, he is still very positive about life and continues to train on a normal basis to help him recover further. He constantly sets goals for himself to tackle each week. He plans on competing at the Paralympics.
Brandon is also a motivational speaker and travels locally, inspiring people by sharing his story that he hopes will motivate other people not to give up.
“People with disabilities are not all sob stories and pity parties. They are human beings with dreams and aspirations. I am grateful to organisations such as the SAB Foundation who give us the freedom to grow as individuals and entrepreneurs and all we ask for is an opportunity just like everyone else,” he concludes.