Reader Profile - The courage to carry on
The Chris Burger Petro Jackson Players' Fund is a non-profit organisation that assists victims of catastrophic or serious head, neck and spinal rugby injuries. The Fund encourages recipients to close the chapter behind them and open a new one, filling the blank pages with positive and uplifting experiences. Henry Afrikaner is a recipient who, through ongoing encouragement from the Fund, has taken on this challenge with remarkable determination. He recently took Tori Gardner - the Funds’ Marketing and Events Coordinator - on a tour of Huis Andries Olivier, in Durbanville, where he has been a permanent resident since April 2013.
Carrying on takes courage, and Henry Afrikaner has brought this quote to life. Having been in his chair for six years, he has proven to those around him that it is your outlook on life that defines you and not your circumstances.
On 6 October 2007, Henry, a 28 year old father of two, took to the rugby field with his teammates from the Young Roses Rugby Club in Riversdal in the Western Cape. Playing in the hooker position he entered the scrum like he had been doing for 6 years before. However, on this particular day the scrum failed to bind correctly and Henry was left motionless on the field following the impact. Henry had suffered a C5 complete lesion of his spinal cord. After initial medical care at Groote Schuur Hospital, Henry spent the next three months at the Western Cape Rehab Centre feeling incredibly frustrated, disheartened and overwhelmed by a future he had no way of predicting.
After leaving the WC Rehab Centre, Henry returned home to Klipheuwel in the care of his mother. During this time, he explained that he felt embarrassed and abandoned by his friends who would promise to visit him, but often didn’t. This is where he stayed for almost 3 years until he was enrolled in a computer course through the Quad-Para Association of South Africa (QASA). While he was on this course he met Patrick and Anthony from Huis Andries Olivier Quad House. Patrick, an incredibly talented mouth painter, encouraged Henry to try mouth painting and also included him in hotly contested blow-dart competitions. It was at this stage that Henry took up the offer of being a guest at the Quad House on a temporary basis. Henry quickly befriended the 12 residents, took up painting lessons and became involved in the day-to-day running of the household.
Not long after moving into the house on a trial basis, one of the residents sadly passed away – resulting in there being a room available. Henry looks back on the day he was offered a permanent place in the residence - “When I was told about the available room I was very sad for the guy who had died, but I was so thankful and happy with the thought of staying on in the house that I went to my room and cried.”
As a permanent resident, he was put in charge of the house kitchen where he is responsible for the weekly shopping trips and drawing up of the daily menus. As Henry has gained confidence he has started giving motivational talks and has identified that able-bodied people rarely know how to handle people in wheelchairs, so he likes to teach them how best to interact with people living with disabilities like himself. He often humorously has to remind people that he has “lost his legs and not his voice”.
While leaving Huis Andries Olivier, Henry shared his 2014 goals with Tori. They include him completing his Learner Driver’s License, painting a large-canvas rhino and developing his motivational speaking skills.
Henry is truly an inspiration to all and testament to the fact that there is life after critical accidents.