Koos Jacobs, was a team leader for “Live Work” with Eskom.  He and his team were trained to work on the high voltage power lines without switching the supply off.  But on 5 July 2001, while working in the wind and rain, he slipped off the ladder and touched a live conductor, resulting in 22 000 volts raging through his body.  To keep him alive, his left arm was amputated through his shoulder and both his legs were amputated. Initially the amputation was below the knee, but a week later they re-amputated above his knees due to the extensive nerve damage.  This left him with just one arm and having to deal with a massive change of lifestyle.

He had 32 days in hospital with minimal rehabilitation, left to teach himself how to survive with one arm. Having only been married for seven months at that stage, he and his wonderfully supportive wife, Lizette, started rebuilding their lives. Within six months he was back at work. In 2005 he discovered wheelchair rugby and within two years, he was selected for the South African team to compete in the Oceania tournament in Australia. He has played a major role keeping the Bullfrog team alive in East London, as well as being on the national committee.   In 2009 and 2013 he was selected again to play for the national team.  He is the only athlete in the world that plays with only one arm, in a specially designed wheelchair that he controls with one rim.

Koos was phenomenal in the way that he adapted to his new lifestyle, however one of his biggest frustrations was the fact that he was unable to drive and was dependent on other people for transport.  In 2008 he bought a Toyota and tried to find someone to convert it for him, but having only one arm he was unable to use any of the standard hand controls, making it difficult for people to help.  Four years later, when Johan Cillie from Easy Drive in the Western Cape heard about Koos’ desire to drive, his hopes to be able to drive was rekindled.  After plenty communication via email, telephone and photograph exchange, Johan was able to develop a system that would give Koos back the final missing part of his independence.

Johan built a brake lever that slots under Koos’ left knee, which presses the brake pedal by means of a sideways action from his hip. This left the steering, acceleration and all the secondary controls to be done with his one hand. 

For acceleration, Johan used the Curser Accelerator from Guidosimplex, which is a hand operated linear speed control that Koos holds in his hand and presses a small sliding button with his thumb. Since this is small and easy to hold, similar to a pen, Koos is easily able to hold this and the knob from the steering spinner in his one hand, enabling him to steer.    Johan then fitted a bluetooth key pad onto the spinner, which brings all the auxiliary controls within easy reach of his fingers. This allows him to reach the indicators, lights, hooter etc. without having to remove his hand from the steering wheel.   

The Satellite accelerator is as easy to plug in and out as a cell phone charger, leaving the car driveable by anyone with their legs.

Having worked out a solution for the driving controls, the next phase was to find a suitable vehicle. For Koos the space in the vehicle was the most important as well as having the seat at the correct height to enable him to transfer into and out of the car.  The Hyundai Elantra gave him almost everything that he was looking for.  The size of the driver’s door opening, the correct height of the seat and there was enough space to lift his wheelchair into the car and get it onto the seat next to him.

The shape and size of the boot was also important, as he needed to be able to fit his wheelchair in the boot when he was travelling with his wife and children. 

In developing the Elantra, Hyundai really worked hard at creating a vehicle that is as safe and comfortable as possible to drive, while not letting the price get out of hand.  No wonder it won the car of the year in South Africa in 2012.  The Elantra comes packed with almost every convenience feature and safety feature that you can think of:  rear park assist, dual zone air conditioning, automatic rain sensing wipers, airbags, Anti-Locking Brake System (ABS), Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), Electronic Stability Program (ESP), Vehicle Stability management (VSM) and Active Yaw Control (AYC).   

The Bluetooth system that enables him to answer his cell phone hands free adds to his independence, is was one of the few extras that was not included in the price.  The steering wheel controls with the integrated cruise control are positioned perfectly for him on the right side of the steering wheel next to the steering spinner.  The only feature that is does not have that would make his life easier is an electrically adjustable driver’s seat.

The final fact that clinched the deal for him, was the great service that he got from the Hyundai dealership in East London.  They processed the rebate for him and Hyundai pass the discount directly on to the client so that he only paid the discounted amount.  Hyundai delivered the vehicle to Cape Town for Johan to do the conversion and transported it back to East London to Koos, without charging him for the transport.  From the start to the finish of his purchase, the Hyundai went to every effort to make things easy for him.  

The current price for the Executive Automatic 1.8l is from R279 900 with the rebate amount for drivers with disabilities at approximately R33 000.

Between the design of the Hyundai Elantra and the clever adaptions from Easy Drive Western Cape, Koos Jacobs has been given back his wings of independence.

ri-dot