Following a freak accident on the rugby field on 29 June 2017, 23 year old Lifa Hlongwa sustained a serious spinal cord injury which left him with a challenging road of recovery ahead of him! As Lifa sustained his injury while playing rugby, he automatically became a member of the Players’ Fund. Since Lifa’s injury, we have been keeping a close eye on his progress sharing his story of determination and positive outlook and partnering him on this journey. This role, we will play indefinitely!

Since being told that it would be unlikely that he would walk again post-injury, Lifa completed 12 weeks of specialised rehabilitation which was sponsored by Life Health – Entabeni, followed by 3 months of out-patient physiotherapy and home strength training which was made possible by the Sharks Rugby Union. In this time Lifa has made impressive progress and although still using his crutches & wheelchair to get anywhere quickly – he is now able to walk for short periods and has been keeping himself very busy in Durban with yoga, para-rowing, home based strength training and living by his personal motto “#onestepatatime.

Damage to the spinal cord, is a complicated field of medicine, with the level and severity of the injury largely determining the amount of motor (movement)  and  sensory (feeling)  functionality possible, however this is not as black and white as it sounds, as on occasion the resulting outcome is due to a mix of fate, hard work and sheer determination.

You can find more information about spinal cord injuries HERE.

Lifa’s story shares a common thread to that of Brandon Beack, a young man who also sustained a spinal cord injury while participating in a sport he loves – gymnastics. Since Brandon’s injury in 2012 and his own rehabilitation process, he and his parents have established the Walking with Brandon Foundation.

Together with the Sports Science Institute of South Africa they have set up the Rehabilitation and Beyond Neurological Centre. Since the centre’s launch, the first floor at Sports Science Institute has become a harbour of hope for individuals seeking neurological rehabilitation over and above what is normally offered. This is done under the guidance of a group of dedicated and caring biokineticists. The positivity in the centre is palpable and to date 6 Players’ Fund recipients have been through the doors pursuing their own specifically designed goals, which range from improved general health to acquiring new practical skills like wheelchair transfers and improving their core strength and stability – all with the intention of becoming stronger physically. It is however the mental and emotional strength this process seems to be promoting that indicates that this programme is changing lives for the better & has an exciting future.

The first 6 months of Lifa’s journey post-injury were enabled by the KZN rugby community ensuring that their player was given the same support off the field as what he would have had on it. This will continue as the KZN Former Players Association, headed up by trustees Gary Teichmann, Wayne Fyvie, John Smit, Stefan Terblanche and Greg Larson, stepped in to co-sponsor a 3 month “exer-battical” for Lifa in Cape Town. Once the ball started rolling it was hard to keep up when the Walking with Brandon and the Sports Science Institute threw their support behind Lifa, offering affordable rates which made the full 3-month period of intense training financially possible. The next step was well and truly in motion…but Lifa still needed a place to sleep….

This is when the Nurture Health Care Group stepped into the picture. They provide physical rehabilitation to both in and outpatients who require post-operative or post injury rehabilitation. The group have 9 Rehabilitation Hospitals around the country with their differentiator being their expert and experienced staff who ensure that everyone in their care are treated as well as they would be in their own homes.

By offering Lifa a home away from home for his entire stay at the Nurture Health Newlands Step-Down Facility that occupies the 5th floor of the Sports Science Institute, the opportunity was made possible and Lifa packed his bags. To ensure that Lifa took the most out of this opportunity, the Players’ Fund have also availed a desk in the office for Lifa to work at in the afternoons after his exercise sessions. He will be helping with administration in the office, adding to his CV and earning a monthly stipend which has been generously awarded by the Paraplegic & Quadriplegic Charitable Trust of SA.

On Wednesday 7 March 2018 Lifa was accompanied by Kim McBain from the Players’ Fund from Durban to Cape Town and introduced to his new family in Newlands. We look forward to the next three months as Lifa will be sharing his story which has been made possible by a group of organisations that have seen potential in Lifa and wish only the very best for him on his journey!

Lifa is well aware of the opportunity that he has been afforded and likes to remind himself of this while remembering all those who he has met along his journey up until now.

“Never take something for granted that someone else would be praying for.” – Lifa 

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