Hospital event celebrates achievements of past patients
Hundreds of people sustain spinal cord injuries each year in South Africa and 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.
“Every year, the dedicated multidisciplinary healthcare professionals at Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital provide treatment, nursing care and rehabilitative therapies to many people who have suffered this kind of injury,” says Dr Virginia Wilson, Chairperson of the Southern African Spinal Cord Association, who practises at the hospital.
“Many of the patients we see 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 Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Day event is to share these successes with others to show how much can be achieved with rehabilitation.”
The spinal cord consists of tens of thousands of nerve fibres that carry messages to and from the brain. A spinal cord injury causes damage to these nerve fibres, and can potentially cause the individual to lose the use of their limbs as well as sensation in affected areas. The spinal cord does not have to be severed in order to affect the body’s functions. In fact, in by far the majority of cases, it is damaged rather than severed.
Dr Wilson says that the International Spinal Cord Society, with which the local association is affiliated, chose the theme ‘Yes, We Can’ for this year’s awareness campaign.
“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, however, an extremely significant factor in the progress they are able to make,” Dr Wilson observes.
A number of Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital’s former patients gave testimonials at the event, to demonstrate the headway they have made since sustaining spinal cord injuries.
“There have been so many phenomenal stories, and by sharing these with our current patients and their families we hope that they will draw inspiration to achieve their own goals. People with spinal cord injuries can be active members of their communities, pursue many different career options, accomplish life goals and have fulfilling relationships and life experiences,” she asserts.
Joe Sandows, general manager of the hospital, adds that spinal cord injury patients at Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital have access to a multidisciplinary team to support them, including the services of doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, an orthotist and a dietitian.
“Our hospital has shared in so many people’s personal milestones on their paths to recovery and rehabilitation. The spinal cord injury awareness day is a wonderful opportunity to dispel misconceptions about life after such injuries and show that people can live empowered and enriching lives after life-changing spinal trauma, particularly when they are holistically supported,” Sandows observes.
E-News Channel Africa (eNCA) online journalist and para-cyclist, Palesa Manaleng, shared her story at the event. Since being paralysed as a result of a spinal cord injury sustained in a bicycle accident in 2014, she has excelled in hand cycling, having represented South Africa in Para-cycling 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 knocking off at 4am and sometimes getting home at 5am but without fail in the morning I am at the gym or on a treadmill or cycling,” she said.
Manaleng is determined to make the most of every opportunity and refuses to let physical limitations define her. “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 asserts.
She is now working towards her dream of representing South Africa at the 2020 Paralympics.
“All I am saying is that life after a spinal cord injury 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 concluded.