The only real disability in life is a bad attitude. These are the words that keep Stellenbosch University medical student Samantha Stander motivated.
This after she proved doctors wrong by taking her first step at the age of two after being told that she would never walk.
The self-proclaimed fitness junkie and third-year medical student was born with severe congenital developmental dysplasia, an abnormal hip formation leading to unstable hips. The condition prevented her from doing exercise during her early years of life.
“My condition was so severe that doctors told my parents that I would never be able to walk,” Stander says.
“Miraculously a few months after her diagnosis on December 23,1993 I took my first steps, astounding both the doctors and a professor who took on my case at Unitas Hospital in Bloemfontein,” she says.
Her mobility is the most beautiful gift she could have given her mom and her family, she says.
“To date, my mom still classifies this as an early Christmas miracle.’’
Stander, 24, explains that her hip disorder is characterised by a shallow or underdeveloped acetabulum (the socket of the hip bone) and displacement of the proximal femur (thigh bone) from the acetabulum.
“Currently, my bone is so shallow that when I walk or run you are able to feel the movement of my femur head move up and down as it does not stay in one fixed position.’’
Despite these bone deformities, which negatively affect her movement, Stander has been active.
She completed the Discovery Duathlon, an urban run-cycle-run in February.
The race includes a 2.5km run, 10km cycle and another 2.5km run to the finish line.
She also completed The Grind , an obstacle course race that is about 5km and contains 18 to 20 obstacles along the route. She is now training to participate in The Grind obstacle race on Saturday.
While she admits that participating in these races is one of her greatest achievements, she says her life is not without challenges.
Because her joints aren’t as flexible as those of able-bodied people, even driving a car for more than 30 minutes can be challenging.
“I can feel so much pain that sometimes it’s a little unbearable. But because I told myself that I want to finish everything I get my head around, I push through,” she says.
The disorder has become more severe. The amount of pain that she has to endure as years go by has grown worse, “to a point where it wakes me up at night”.
It also prevents her from being able to do day-to-day activities, such as tying shoelaces and climbing stairs.
In November, she will have a hip replacement operation, which she hopes will bring relief.
“I had to wait until my bones were fully grown to finally get my hip replacement.
“Apart from just the shallow acetabulum and displaced femur head, I developed juvenile osteoarthritis (childhood arthritis), caused by inflammation of the joints. I developed it in both my hip joints, knees, ankles and my right wrist.”
Even when in pain, the young medic looks forward to her clinical rotation which she says gives her the opportunity to make a positive impact on many families.
At present, she works at the paediatrics section at Tygerberg Hospital.
Her normal working day starts with ward rounds, then examining patients and doing tutorials on various systems of the body.
She says her abnormality has an impact on her passion for medicine.
Since her first year of university, she developed an interest in child health and decided to specialise in paediatric orthopaedics to help children born with the congenital abnormalities such as hers.
“I want to ensure they do not have to endure the pain that I’m going through,” she says.