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Cape Town - After seven years of not being able to walk independently, Andrew Merryweather – the man who was assaulted and left paralysed from the waist down – has had a taste of how it would feel to be “normal again”.
“My absolute goal and dream is to be able to walk again,” said Merryweather, 31.
The frontline manager at Theatre on the Bay in Camps Bay was attacked in 2006 by a group of eight high school boys in Claremont.
He was left with only one of his four limbs working.
After years of therapy, Merryweather was introduced to the Re-Walk suit, which could help him walk and stand freely.
“The suit was developed in Israel,” he said. “It is easy to operate and you can walk and stand, but what’s also great about it is that you can also climb stairs.”
Last Friday, Merryweather returned from a trip to Cyclone Mobility in the UK, where he spent a week learning to walk in and operate the robotic suit, which costs about R800 000.
After leaving Britain, he was invited to try another suit made by an American manufacturer that focuses on rehabilitation as well as on walking. The US suit costs about R1.7 million.
He spoke to the Cape Argus on Sunday about his experiences using the suit.
“It’s difficult to put the feeling into words. It’s not only getting up and standing. It’s the psychological impact. I realised I’m not that small anymore, I was tall. I had my first stand-up hug, which was amazing.
“My mom was really emotional,” he continued.
“Tears were streaming down her face when she saw me in it.
“I knew the attack had hit her far worse than it hit me.”
The two suits operate with different systems. The Israeli suit uses a push mechanism that does not tire the user’s muscles after hours of use.
The American suit has a small computer at the back that calculates how far the user has walked and whether he or she is tired.
“It’s more natural and after hours of using it I can feel my muscles waking and I got heat and sweat sensations which I hadn’t felt in a while.”
Merryweather has not yet decided which suit to buy.
His fiancée, Robyn Siebers, 23, said she could not wait for him to start walking again.
“It will be nice to have him at eye level and also to go on strolls around the area,” said the law student.
Merryweather added: “That’s the only time I get down, when I become aware of what I have lost. I can’t do normal couple things and we are restricted.” But he was optimistic about the future.
Last month, the Weekend Argus reported that one of the former Reddam House pupils at the centre of the violent scuffle that paralysed Merryweather, was ordered to pay him R10.29 million in damages.
The order was made by Western Cape High Court Acting Judge Boet Smit.
Cadet News Agency