MPILETSO MOTUMI

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AS HIS new legs touched the floor, he held tightly on to the hands of his physiotherapist. She commanded sternly: “Don’t look at your toes.”

He pursed his lips together for extra concentration and took his first step… then his second and third.

He walked up and down the therapy room quietly and confidently – still holding on to physiotherapist Elmari Smit.

After a little while, he started to show off his skills. He jumped, he danced and then he almost ran. When he was all done, he took a deep breath and smiled.

These were the first steps that 10-year-old Ntando Mahlangu had taken in four months.

He was born with hemimelia, a condition where the lower bone of the leg is either shortened or non-existent, and angled in such a way that a person is unable to walk properly, if at all.

Doctors took the decision to amputate his legs at his knees in May and he has been wheelchair bound since.

Yesterday, Ntando was presented with carbon-fibre “cheetah blades” by prosthetics and rehabilitation specialist Johan Snyders at the Hope School in Westcliff in front of an encouraging crowd.

Snyders is the founder of the Jumping Kids, a non-profit organisation he started three years ago after realising the need for young children with amputations to have access to quality prosthetics in order to develop better.

“We have issues with loads of kids who have disabilities and there is already a backlog. If we can get the kids mobile, they can go to school and change their luck,” he said.

Snyders is also the CEO of Icexpress Progressive Prosthetics, which uses new technologies to manufacture quality prosthetics quickly.

Yesterday, Ntando watched curiously as Snyders assembled and fitted his new legs using silicone, rubber and glass fibre, among other easily portable materials. The process took about 30 minutes and Ntando was on his “feet” shortly afterwards.

“There’s a magic period to develop kids. They don’t want to just play; they want to jump, run around and be kids,” said Snyders.

Jumping Kids ambassador and Paralympics gold medalist Samkelo Radebe urged Ntando to keep up the good work. He put the gold medal he won in London last month around Ntando’s neck, saying: “This is what you’re walking towards.”

The organisation has helped 45 children across the country receive prosthetics through the help of sponsorships and commitment from individuals and companies like Avis, which supplied them with a mobile clinic.

“The costs vary. A prosthetic for one child can cost anything from R20 000 upwards,” said Snyder, adding that his team would assess Ntando’s progress every three months. He said they would also make prosthetic knees and feet for Ntando to be able to sit and bend. “He told us his dream was to run, so all we are doing is fulfilling it.”

Ntando left his Pretoria home on a wheelchair and will return walking, to surprise his grandmother Pauline, who was unable to attend yesterday’s event.