Offers of help, positive thoughts and prayers has gotten Dr. Andrew Newell back on his feet. Five years ago, while practising as a dentist in Sandton, Gauteng an abysmal thing happened to the Newall family. Andy as he is fondly called, a father of three, suffered life-altering injuries during a mountain biking accident while training for the Nedbank Sani2c race. He fell while leading a trail ride through Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve, with a group of four training partners. It appears Andy had landed on his head or neck, causing severe damage to his spinal cord and cervical nerves.

“I had difficulty with my Camelbak, then wanted to see what the problem was. I did everything one shouldn’t do when encountering a problem while cycling. The irony is that I was not even cycling fast when the accident happened.”

It’s unclear what caused him to crash. As an experienced and careful rider, and the terrain not known to be dangerous, the damage found on Andy’s helmet was surprisingly extensive. “I was lucky there was a physio cycling with us on the day. I remember fainting often due to my blood pressure fluctuating.”

Andy was flown to Union hospital in Alberton, but was later transported to Sandton Clinic. He remained in ICU for 10 days and was closely monitored as his sustained spinal shock. “My reflexes, movement, and feeling below the level of injury was absent, I was completely paralysed.”

During Andy’s surgery Harrington Rods were implanted to stabilise his thoracic and lumbar areas of the spinal column. Andy’s wife, Mandy, had to take over the household and made sure that everything ran as smooth as possible. At four weeks after Andy’s operation he was able to start moving his toes. At six weeks he started taking baby steps. For Andy the hardest part of recovery was rehab.

“Suddenly you’re not able to do anything. My neck was in a brace. I was scared. My primary goal was always to be independent.”

When finally discharged from hospital, Andy had to sell his dental practice as his injury forced him to stop pulling teeth. He was permanently incapacitated. “My neurosurgeon, Carle van Heerden told me I will never be able to practice dentistry again as my fine tuning motion was gone.”

Because of this support and a determined will Andy is now mostly independent. “It takes a lot of patience and practice, I have to train every day to maintain my condition.”

He has been most helpful to Mandeville Disability Swimming in helping the club to raise funds. A couple of years ago, Andy founded IT Gap, a computer tutoring business, with a view to helping people with disabilities, especially those to whom transport presents major problems to earn a living.

“These ventures typically take time to get going and I’ve struggled for a while, but now seems to have made a break-through. The pilot project for people with disabilities in the Johannesburg Metropolitan area gives a training opportunity in Debt Recovery and Revenue Management. Once successfully trained, the individual is setup in their home and provided with the necessary equipment.”

When taking a break from ITGap, Andy serves on the Profmed Medical Aid Scheme Board of Trustees, where he complements the Board with his experience in dentistry.

With his confident attitude, Andy says his limited disability provides huge upsides since he can be more involved with his family.

“I’m extremely fortunate and cannot truly relate to people with real complications. I can go to my children’s sporting events or just play with them around the house, where I wasn’t able to spend much time with them when I was actively practicing dentistry.”

Every spinal injury is different, but don’t dwell on what you don’t have, there is always hope!

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