It is tempting to call Dr Nazeem Ismail, Undersecretary: Research and Parliamentary Practice of the National Assembly, a victim of crime. Nazeem (46), however, regards himself as a survivor.

He survived a traumatic shooting in December, 1999 (assisting a family who were being held at gunpoint), and has survived the adjustment from being a dynamic young lecturer, and promising cricket player, to leading a fulfilling life without the use of his legs.

Nazeem, who lives with his mother and siblings in Athlone, sustained gunshot wounds that left him a paraplegic (L1/L2) just three months after obtaining his PhD in Public Administration, from the University of the Western Cape, where he was also teaching at the time of the shooting.

Assisted by a wonderful team of doctors and nurses at the Southern Cross Hospital in Wynberg, his hospitalisation and rehab lasted almost two months. He received particularly wonderful support, advice and encouragement from Dr Ed Baalbergen, who is still his GP.

"I remember most clearly the day Dr Baalbergen told me that I would probably never walk again," he says. "The shock was almost too much to bear. Then followed my attempts to face, and come to terms with, the reality of being paralysed."

"Facing it and coming to terms with it are two different things. I sometimes wonder whether it is ever possible to come to terms with the fact that I will never walk again, but I have accepted that life goes on."

Adjusting to a physical disability is difficult. Nazeem initially struggled with the emotional adjustments, becoming increasingly withdrawn and soon leading the life of a recluse. His friends eventually persuaded him to venture out in public where he was surprised at the level of acceptance and encouragement he received. "Seeing other wheelchair users mixing effortlessly with able-bodied people made me realise that I could interact socially again."

"No disabled person should underestimate, or take for granted, the love and support of family and friends. I am where I am today because of them."

Five months after being discharged from hospital, his father - his pillar of strength and a great source of inspiration - passed away. "It was extremely difficult," he says. His mom and sister are now the ones who tirelessly rally the troops on the home front.

Nazeem resumed his lecturing duties in 2001 and in the October a colleague alerted him to an advertisement for a senior post in Parliament. He was applied and, after a harrowing interview process, was appointed.

As Undersecretary: Research and Parliamentary Practice in the National Assembly Nazeem has to ensure, amongst other things, that accurate procedural advice is given to the Speaker and 400 MPs of the Assembly. "I am privileged to work in Parliament and rub shoulders with senior politicians like the President and Cabinet members, the Speaker and other Presiding Officers." He has high praise for his superiors and colleagues, whom he describes as a "wonderful and caring team."

Nazeem has made valuable contributions to Parliament's policies on disability and would like to see more people with disabilities in Parliament, "If they have the appropriate experience and qualifications, they will be hired. People with disabilities should realise that they can achieve a great deal if they put their minds to it."

Nazeem's big passion is wheels and drives a racy VW Golf R that keeps him young and the local traffic department solvent! In 2008 he took part in the Outeniqua Wheelchair Race and met his idol, Ernst van Dyk.

"Life is about choices. When I became paralysed, I could have chosen to stay in my room and spend the rest of my life feeling sorry for myself. Thankfully, I embraced my disability and realised that the world was not going to change to accommodate my disability. Rather, I needed to reintegrate myself into society. Today I feel accepted and appreciated for who I am and, hopefully, I add some meaning and a dash of good humour to others' lives.

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