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That Fateful Day

Thursday, 6th June, 1990. On this day, everything I thought my life would be – my hopes, my dreams, my plans … everything, changed. At about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, while preparing for the world Championships of trampoline gymnastics, I had an accident that left me a C4 complete quadriplegic. In an instant, feeling only a click in my neck, and a bolt of lightning going through my body, I lost the use of my arms and my legs. It is a day that I will never forget, as long as I live.

I do not often speak about this event in my life. It happened in an instant, yet it changed my life forever. I remember myself saying, I don't want to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair! Of course, I had no idea what living with this form of disability would mean. The only thing I remember was being scared. An ambulance was on the scene shortly after, and a batch of x-rays confirmed that which I already knew. I had suffered a cervical dislocation of the fourth vertebra in my neck. It was now a race against time to repair the damage and hope and pray that the operation could been done in time to allow me to retain my ability to walk.

Somewhere in the transit between Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth, I lost consciousness. I awoke on Saturday, two days after my accident, to be told that I was on a ventilator that it was breathing in my stead. I was told that I had been to theatre twice during the time between my accident and my regaining consciousness, and that more than likely, I would never walk again. Of course, the final prognosis would be made by the surgeons at Conradie Hospital in Cape Town but, judging by what the original neurosurgeon could observe, this was his estimation.

Something like a spinal-cord injury doesn't only affect the person it happens to. It affects everyone in your family, as well as your friends. From the moment I opened my eyes, I remember my mother being at my bedside. Of course, she was not the only one, but at that point she was the one who mattered most to me. My mother had planned a weekend away in the lowveld at a bush lodge – Sabi Sabi. She had arrived there to the news that her eldest son had broken his neck on a trampoline and that doctors were not sure if he would live. After a four hour drive, she got back in the car and did the return trip as fast as she possibly could. She was on a plane that very same night, all the while praying to God to spare her son, even if she only retained 10 percent of him. She landed in Port Elizabeth the next morning.