Helping disabled driv­ers

Nicky’s Drive pro­vides funds to­wards car adap­ta­tions for peo­ple with lim­ited or no mo­bil­ity

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING - KERRYN MCKAY

“My name is No­ma­jwarha and I’m a con­tract civil en­gi­neer at the Water Author­ity of the Amath­ole Dis­trict Mu­nic­i­pal­ity in East Lon­don.

“Although en­gi­neers are gen­er­ally re­quired to do a lot of trav­el­ling as part of our job, I travel now less than I used to a cou­ple of years ago.

“This is be­cause a car ac­ci­dent left me with se­verely im­peded leg mo­bil­ity. But I don’t let that stop me from mov­ing!”

No­ma­jwarha Si­tonga can re­call ev­ery de­tail of the car ac­ci­dent that changed her life in 2014. An on­com­ing car swerved to avoid hit­ting a don­key on the road be­tween Ped­die and East Lon­don, and smashed into the car in which Si­tonga was a pas­sen­ger. She knew im­me­di­ately that her in­juries were se­ri­ous. Upon be­ing ad­mit­ted to hospi­tal, Si­tonga was suf­fer­ing from blunt ab­dom­i­nal trauma that caused paral­y­sis from the waist down, and re­sulted in per­ma­nent lower-leg weak­ness. Af­ter five months in hospi­tal (in­clud­ing two in re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion), she was dis­charged us­ing crutches and an­kle foot or­tho­sis (AFO) braces. To­day, she no longer uses the crutches, but the AFOs are a ne­ces­sity as they sta­bilise her feet, pro­vide ex­tra sup­port and keep her feet at the re­quired 90-de­gree an­gle for walk­ing.

At the time of her ac­ci­dent, Si­tonga was an in­tern at the mu­nic­i­pal­ity. She was 27 years old. She says: “When you are told that you won’t be able to walk unas­sisted ever again, the first thing that comes into your mind is that you are fin­ished; that your life has come to an end.” As some­one with a very in­de­pen­dent spirit, Si­tonga felt that she sim­ply could not ac­cept this. She be­gan do­ing on­line re­search, in­ves­ti­gat­ing ways that might as­sist her in be­com­ing mo­bile once more. She found that it was pos­si­ble for nor­mal cars to un­dergo spe­cial adap­ta­tions to en­able peo­ple with lim­ited, or no mo­bil­ity, to drive. (Si­tonga could drive prior to her ac­ci­dent.)

This was the piece of news that she had been look­ing for. She re­calls how she be­gan to pester those around her with the in­for­ma­tion: “I was hav­ing therapy at the Life St Do­minic’s Hospi­tal’s re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion unit for mo­bil­i­sa­tion, and I told the staff at the unit that I wanted to drive again. They be­gan to help me find a sup­plier that could ac­com­plish car adap­ta­tions.”

It was from a Jo­han­nes­burg­based sup­plier that Si­tonga heard about Nicky’s Drive, the only non­profit or­gan­i­sa­tion in South Africa to specif­i­cally pro­vides funds to­wards car adap­ta­tions for peo­ple with lim­ited or no mo­bil­ity.

Nicky Ab­di­nor, the founder of Nicky’s Drive, says: “Prior to her ac­ci­dent, No­ma­jwarha had a bright fu­ture ahead of her. She was de­ter­mined that her dis­abil­ity was not go­ing to change this, and her ap­pli­ca­tion for fund­ing clearly re­flected her de­ter­mi­na­tion for in­de­pen­dence.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Af­ter be­ing dis­charged from hospi­tal in Septem­ber 2014, Si­tonga was driv­ing her newly adapted car, with spe­cial hand-op­er­ated ac­cel­er­a­tor and brakes, by Novem­ber that year. And she has been driv­ing ever since. Over time, as she be­comes stronger, Si­tonga some­times uses her legs when driv­ing, so that “they can get used to the idea of driv­ing, es­pe­cially for shorter dis­tances”. Longer dis­tances are pos­si­ble us­ing the car’s adap­ta­tions, and she has been known to drive her­self be­tween East Lon­don and Port Al­fred.

Si­tonga be­lieves that Nicky’s Drive gave her far more than the abil­ity to move.

She says: “I am able to teach peo­ple out there – as well as my­self – that you can do any­thing that you put your mind to, even if you have a dis­abil­ity. Be­ing disabled doesn’t mean that you are less hu­man; it just means that you do things in a spe­cial way. I never feel like I’m trapped, be­cause when­ever I want to go out, I just take my car and go.” • If you have a dream to drive, ap­ply to Nicky’s Drive on http://nickys drive.com for fund­ing to have your car adapted. • Nickey Drive also ap­peals to all who can help to con­tact Nicky’s Drive to help them achieve mo­bil­ity and in­de­pen­dence for more peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties.

PHOTO: NICKYSDRIVE.COM

No­ma­jwarha Si­tonga has se­verely im­peded leg mo­bil­ity, but it she does not let that stop her from driv­ing.

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