Hobbling along on an ill-fitting prosthetic leg, held together with bandages, nuts and bolts, sticky tape and glue, shark attack victim Imraan Sheik has been praying for a lifeline for the past decade to help ease his pain and suffering.
Ten years ago, on January 4, 2002, Sheik, then 16, was fishing with friends in knee-deep water on the sandbanks of the Royal Natal Yacht Club at the Durban Harbour, when he was attacked by what was believed to be a Zambezi shark. His right leg had to be amputated.
His story made headlines as it was the first reported shark attack in the harbour since the Sharks Board began keeping records of attacks in the 1940s.
This week the Daily News tracked Sheik to his home in Chatsworth to see how he was doing.
He said despite the many challenges he has faced over the years because of his disability, including being unemployed and living hand to mouth, Sheik’s love for the sea and his fascination with sharks have not faded.
“At first I was very angry and depressed about what happened to me. But as time went by I accepted that it was my fate. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sharks are created by God. They are beautiful creatures and curious by nature,” Sheik said.
“In fact, I am fascinated by them. I love reading about them and also follow attacks on other victims closely.
“The internet on my cellphone is my best friend. I Google articles about shark attack victims throughout the world. Many people expect me to be afraid of the sea and to have a fear of sharks, but I don’t. With the support of my family and my faith in God, I am confident my dark days will come to an end.”
Sheik has earned the nickname Sharky.
“Everyone calls me Sharky. It doesn’t upset me. I have become famous with that name. Up until today, many people react with shock when I tell them how I lost my leg.
“I love talking about it. It’s easy to talk about now. I also hope that by talking about it, more people become aware when going to the beach. This has taught me not to take anything for granted.”
Speaking from his grandmother Kalawathi Elahi’s modest flat in Bangladesh, Chatsworth, Sheik said five years ago his life took a turn for the better when his childhood sweetheart Taahirah agreed to marry him. “She is my pillar and helps me get through each day. She has given up her dreams and aspirations to take care of me. For this, I am grateful. She also does not pity me and encourages me to try to lead a normal life.”
Sheik turns to the sea to earn a living. He takes a train from Chatsworth daily, to fish at Durban’s south pier.
“Fortunately, I love fishing, so I don’t see it as a chore or hard work. The only difficult part is getting to the beach with my prosthetic limb, which is falling to pieces. I am fortunate most days to catch enough fish to buy food and pay the lights and water.
“This helps supplement my disability grant of just over R1 000 a month. Some months are very difficult financially, but we get through somehow.”
With regard to his amputated leg, Sheik said he often suffers phantom pains and terrible blisters caused by the prosthetic limb.
“A year after the attack, the limb was donated to me. It is badly damaged and I cannot afford to buy a new one. To keep it together I use bandages, nuts and bolts, sticky tape and glue. It weighs almost 10kg and is difficult to walk with. In fact when I put it on, I have to hold it in position or it slips off. This also takes a toll on my hands and back. But I have no choice.
“It’s either that or I have to walk with crutches. That restricts the use of my hands and I cannot move around freely.”
He said that a few years ago he went back to Addington Hospital, where his leg was amputated, to try to secure his file so he could get a new limb from Wentworth Hospital.
“Unfortunately, the file could not be found. I did not pursue it further. To get a new limb I need about R20 000. That is beyond my reach. But I pray to God daily for a miracle. Getting a new limb will help ease my pain and suffering. Maybe then I could also get a job.”
Sheik said his childhood dream was to join the army.
“I always wanted to join the army. I have not given up hope on that. I’m still young. Maybe, if I get my leg sorted out, I will be able to follow my dream.”
Since the fateful day, Sheik has never returned to the spot where he was attacked. “I have felt no need to go there. I have no fear. It’s just something I never thought about doing.”
His granny, who took care of him until he got married, said it still pained her to see her favourite grandson.
“I thank God that he is alive. But he deserves more. He needs to get a job and be able to live a better life.
“I have not lost hope. In my heart I know that one day he will become somebody.”
To pass his time when he is not fishing, Sheik said he spends time at the local swimming pool or chatting with his friends.