On a seemingly ordinary Spring morning in 2022, 34-year-old SA Police Service officer Ntsako Mathebula embarked on a routine patrol, unaware that it would be the last day she'd walk on her own two feet.
A surprise encounter with robbers at a residential garage left her with a bullet wound in her back, causing severe abdominal injuries, a collapsed lung, and tragically, irreversible spinal cord damage.
Dr Aneesa Khan of Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital, where Ntsako was treated, detailed the extent of her injuries.
The bullet had not only damaged her spine, but also penetrated her small intestine. While surgeons, including Professor Maeyane Moeng and Dr Christos Profyris, managed to address her abdominal injuries, the damage to her spine was permanent.
Recalling the traumatic incident, Ntsako said, “All the while, I was praying to God, saying, ‘I am not ready to come to you yet’. After the incident, I was in a lot of pain and couldn’t feel my legs, but I was grateful to be alive.”
Dr Khan emphasised the complexities of rehabilitating paraplegic patients, highlighting concerns like sensory impairment, which can lead to pressure sores, osteoporosis, and nerve pain.
The rehabilitation process requires a multidisciplinary approach, involving physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and social workers.
Physiotherapist Trinesh Baroon, who has been closely working with Ntsako, praised her determination and resilience.
“Her bravery and determination will influence the lives of people she will never even meet because she has helped to pave the way for others in similar circumstances,” Baroon remarked.
Despite the emotional toll of her new reality, Ntsako remains optimistic.
She finds solace in discussing her experiences with her social worker and family. “I have learned from this experience that there are some things you cannot change, but you can always change your mind. It is all about attitude. I am so looking forward to going back to work in an administrative role. I am ready to start afresh, and I am still inspired to do good and to make a difference,” she shared.