Cape Town - It’s certainly an unusual wedding present – and a very early one at that – but it is the one thing paraplegic Andrew Merryweather was really hoping for: a bionic suit that will allow him to walk down the aisle with his fiancée, Robyn Siebers.
Merryweather, 32, has been renting the Ekso bionic suit from a UK company since October. At a personal cost of R46 000 a month, this wasn’t something he could keep doing indefinitely.
Several other disabled Capetonians have also had the use of the Ekso, most of whom had not stood up since they were paralysed. The Ekso is a rehabilitation suit and is not designed for walking on ground that isn’t level, so the wedding venue will have to be as flat as a bowling green.
An eleventh-hour mid-February bid to raise the R1.2-million needed to buy the second-hand robotic exoskeleton before it was to be returned to London saw a substantial contribution from a single donor, who wishes to remain anonymous. Financial help also came from Autus fund managers, where Merryweather works part-time as a brand ambassador.
Merryweather and Siebers are beginning to plan their wedding for March next year.
Merrwyeather was paralysed when he was attacked in Claremont in 2006.
While he is able to walk with the Ekso, he still needs a “spotter” to walk behind him for assistance with his balance.
“So, that’s my aim, to be able to walk solo at the wedding. Because of the attack, I’m not able to use my stomach muscles to lean forward to balance the suit on my back. That’s something I have to work on this year.”
Siebers, 23, and Merryweather have been living together for five years, and recently moved into a garden apartment in Rondebosch. The couple met when Siebers’ sister was dating Merryweather’s former Camps Bay housemate.
Siebers, who matriculated from Rustenberg Girls’ High School, is a final-year law student with Unisa, and works as an au pair during the day.
As restaurant manager, Merryweather was a well-known face at Theatre on the Bay in Camps Bay for more than a decade. However, he was retrenched in October last year, after which a settlement was reached through the CCMA.
When Merryweather unexpectedly found himself unemployed, Hardi Swart, a director at Autus, offered him a position: “I saw Andrew’s story on Carte Blanche, and found him so inspiring. There is such a magnetic presence about him…
“He has a positive message, is highly capable and has a lot to offer our company,” Swart said.