Reader Profile - Charity Hlatshwayo’s matric celebration a bittersweet occasion
To succeed sets high demands on each of us, but if you are physically disabled, you need to dig much deeper into yourself to overcome obstacles.
When young Charity Hlatshwayo was in a serious car accident on December 29, 2013, her life was hanging on a thread. She was rushed to Union hospital in Alberton on Gauteng’s East Rand, but it was discovered that this 20 year old dislocated her hip, and sustained a spinal cord injury.
“I had just matriculated from Bracken High School and was in the car with my friends coming home from a matric gathering. We celebrated finally being done with school. We were only five minutes’ drive away from my home in Mayberry Park, when the driver lost control and couldn’t handle the curve as he was supposed to.” Charity had an operation on her spine, but was left a C4 -C5 Quadriplegic.
A dream for a sparkling future could not be dampened by the tragic motor vehicle accident that left her in a wheelchair. “Getting done with school has been my proudest achievement recently. I’ve had plans to further my studies and go to college or university, but since the accident I had to amend those plans slightly. I took a gap year, however, I want to pursue my degree in Psychology next year.“
Charity is still receiving physiotherapy and must learn to be independent again.
“For me it’s been a huge challenge getting used to depending on others to be my hands and feet. In the beginning, I struggled with the wheelchair and it was frustrating. It only becomes easier now.”
Although Charity may still be mostly unaware of the shift that has taken place, the mere fact that she has been able not to lose her former self to fear, regret and anger already highlights who she has been all along.
“It’s been very difficult, because society places a stigma on wheelchairs. People look at you in your wheelchair and already have this perception about you. The starring often makes me uncomfortable.”
For fun, Charity loves spending time with friends. “Not much has changed on a social front, I always have my friends around. I still go to the mall and hang out with friends and my mom. I’m still getting used to being in a wheelchair, as I cannot be as outgoing as we used to be in the past, but it’s getting easier.”
Although this pretty girl makes the best of her circumstances, the financial pressure on Charity’s parents is enormous. Her mother, Phumzile explains that they have a medical aid, but funds quickly got exhausted. “The medication cost per month, a personal caretaker and Charity’s essential weekly therapy amounts to thousands of Rands. Currently I’m running everything from my own pocket.”
Functional independent facilitator, Audrey Kobeka, says Charity is showing vast improvement, but concurs that the financial situation is very challenging. “It’s frustrating, because it’s a waiting period - we are waiting on RAF (The Road Accident Fund) and Charity needs required equipment like joysticks, a functioning wheelchair, proper cushions etc. - in the meantime she (Charity) is developing deformities. The whole process seems to be delayed on purpose as RAF has not provided any financial assistance after nearly a year. ”
Charity, a brilliant student with a love for swimming and previously also a keen netball and touch rugby player, needs an electronic wheelchair because she is not using her hands. “She needs a standing wheelchair for pressure relief. The current basic wheelchair she has is already starting to dig into her back. She requires a proper cushion; right now she sits on a box cushion that patients who are recovering from fractures use. She is prone to pressure sores, because of incorrect seating. Presently we are doing facilitated standing, to avoid losing bone density at her early age. But a lot of adjustments still need to be made,” says Audrey.
Charity’s message to other people with mobility impairments: “Never change who you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a wheelchair, don’t stop doing things you love. Society’s comments can sometimes force change, but be YOU!”