Hundreds of people sustain spinal cord injuries (SCI) each year in South Africa. While these injuries can be life-changing, they do not detract from the individual’s ability to make their mark in society.
This is the message of hope that was celebrated at an event held at Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital in Johannesburg recently to commemorate Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Day, September 5.
“Many of the patients we see at Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital are able to make considerable progress and achieve goals that they never thought possible at the start of their journey with us. The aim of our event is to share these successes with others to show how much can be achieved with rehabilitation,” said Dr Virginia Wilson, chairperson of the Southern African Spinal Cord Association (SASCA).
A number of Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital’s former patients gave testimonials at the event, to demonstrate the progress they have made since sustaining SCI. E-News Channel Africa (eNCA) online journalist and paracyclist Palesa Manaleng also shared her story at the event. Since being paralysed as a result of a SCI sustained in a bicycle accident in 2014, she has excelled in hand cycling, having represented South Africa in Paracycling World Cups in 2015 and 2016.
“After my injury, I wanted to go back to being a journalist and competing as an athlete, and now I do. I work full time at eNCA as an online writer, working overnight and knocking off at 4am, and sometimes getting home only at 5am, but without fail in the morning I am at the gym, on a treadmill or cycling,” she said.
She is determined to make the most of every opportunity and refuses to let physical limitations define her. She noted: “I decided that I was not my legs, and nothing or no one was going to take away my freedom. Not without a fight.”
She is now working towards her dream of representing South Africa at the 2020 Toyko Paralympics.
“Life after a SCI is not easy. You’ll have more obstacles than you had before, but that doesn’t mean that you need to give up on life or stop chasing your dreams. Just keep rolling,” she said.
The International Spinal Cord Society (ISCoS), with which the local association is affiliated, chose the theme ‘Yes, We Can’ for this year’s awareness campaign. Dr Wilson commented: “The theme conveys an especially important message of hope and motivation, particularly for those who are still coming to terms with their injury. Physical rehabilitation can go a long way in terms of improving the prognosis for someone with a spinal cord injury and helping them to make the most of their abilities. The mindset of the individual is a significant factor in the progress they are able to make.”