A story of hope… ‘They gave me 72 hours – I’m still here’

Durban – With the launch of his recent book, Turning Point, quadriplegic Sibusiso Gregory Zondi, 51, tells how his life changed forever when he was completely paralysed after breaking his neck in a taxi accident, and pays tribute to his mother, Makhosazana Zondi, his unsung hero.

Speaking to the Independent on Saturday this week, Sibusiso recalled that day in January 1995.

He had jumped into a taxi heading to his workplace in New Germany from his home in Inanda. He was 27 and felt on top of the world – he had a future as an apprentice at an automotive company in New Germany, which was funding his mechanical engineering studies at Mangosuthu Technikon.

It only took a few moments for his world to implode. The taxi in which he was travelling went through a red robot and collided with a bus.

“I heard a bang and the taxi overturned. I heard the crunching of metal. My neck was broken, but I never lost consciousness. The pain was unbearable and I couldn’t move.”

He watched other passengers climbing out through shattered windows, glass everywhere.

Other passengers picked him up and carried him to the pavement, where paramedics secured his neck before he was taken to King Edward Hospital.

“You’re tethered to a hospital bed, a breathing corpse, perhaps only a breath away from the morgue. In the morning the doctors will give you news. First the good – you’re alive. Then the bad – you’ll never move unaided again,” said Sibusiso

Turning Point details the devastation and despair he had to overcome after the accident, before reaching a place of acceptance and hope.

112244659 - A story of hope... 'They gave me 72 hours - I’m still here'
Left completely paralysed after a taxi accident, Sibusiso Gregory Zondi uses his chin to operate the device in front of him to move his wheelchair. Picture: Bongani Mbatha (ANA)

His brother, Nhlanhla, and his mother, Makhosazana, were called to the hospital that day and as they got to his bed, Zondo remembered a nurse saying to his mother: “You had two wonderful sons, but this one will be gone in 72 hours”.

“My mother remained calm and told the nurse I would still be alive in 72 hours,” he said.

And it was that steadfast belief in her son which became the rock to which Zondi clung in his darkest hours. He was transferred to King Dinuzulu Hospital (then King George Hospital) where he underwent an operation to strengthen his neck and spent a year-and-a-half in hospital until his mother insisted that she be allowed to take him home to care for him.

“For the next 14 years she looked after me and I never even had so much as a bed sore,” he said.

His book’s dedication reads “for my late mother, my Earth angel. You are forever in my heart”.

When his mother fell ill with diabetes in 2009, he knew he had to find alternative care and with help from a friend, Barry Edy, he was provided with a place at Hillcrest Provincial Rehabilitation Hospital where he still lives today.

When his mother died in December 2013, Sibusiso described it as “the worst festive season my family had ever experienced”.

Today he remains immobile. He has a device which he moves with his chin to operate his wheelchair. He enjoys watching television to keep up with world events, is very articulate and enjoys analysing the news.

He said “you can’t look back” and, with encouragement from his hospital manager, Dr Zakhele Khumalo, he wrote his book to provide hope and encouragement to other disabled people and their families. He said he had seen other disabled people commit suicide as a result of their despair.

“I was a very hands-on, independent person and my greatest challenge was being a burden.

“It was a long journey, but there comes a stage where you accept your situation. Now I am very grateful that my mind is alert and my heart receptive.

“Adopting a positive mindset when dealing with this monster called disability is vital,” he said.

His friend Edy, who was a previous vice-president of the Association for the Disabled and was involved with the founding of the Quadriplegic Association, described Zondi as a “remarkable man”.

“His compassion for his fellow disabled knows no bounds. It is a rare thing to witness someone surpass his potential, more humbling still when that person is living with a disability of this magnitude,” said Edy.

Dr Khumalo’s foreword in Turning Point said: “This book offers encouragement that anything is possible, that life goes on and that one can still make a meaningful impact on others’ lives.”

The Independent on Saturday

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