Thaciana Pillay participated in dance competitions until she was diagnosed with scoliosis. Picture: Supplied
Thaciana Pillay participated in dance competitions until she was diagnosed with scoliosis. Picture: Supplied

Thaciana refuses to be defined by her wheelchair

By Chanelle Lutchman Time of article published Oct 8, 2020

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Durban - NAIL technician Thaciana Pillay encourages others to reach for their dreams, no matter how impossible they may seem.

Pillay, 20, of Merebank, has cerebral palsy. The disorder affects movement, posture and co-ordination.

“I was 2 years old when I was diagnosed with spastic diplegia. It is a form of cerebral palsy that is caused by brain damage,” said Pillay.

“It usually appears in early childhood, and it permanently affects muscle control and coordination. Regardless of the early diagnosis, I have never felt as though I were different from anybody else. My parents and sibling have always supported and encouraged me.

Thaciana Pillay

“If my family plans a trip, they plan it with me in mind, so I don’t have any hassles. I have been living in a wheelchair almost my whole life, and while it has its challenges, I always overcome it. My wheelchair is my own form of independence. It acts as my legs.”

She said she remained positive because of the supportive school she attended - Open Air School - in Glenwood.

“I loved the school, and I still have close ties to the staff. Their motto is ‘I can and I will’, and the principal always said: ‘We start together, we finish together’. The staff and the principal moulded me into the confident person that I am today. They told me to look beyond the wheelchair and cerebral palsy and to follow my dreams.”

Nail technician Thaciana Pillay.

Through school, she developed a passion for wheelchair dancing.

“In 2013, the school issued a pamphlet about dancing. My parents thought it would be a great way for me to socialise, so I went along with it.

“I did Latin and ballroom dancing, and I loved it. That same year, I competed in a national dance competition in Cape Town, and I won first place in the Latin dance category.

“I made it to the final again two years later, and I came first in both Latin and ballroom dancing.”

In 2016, she was selected to dance on stage during a live performance by operatic singer Aviva Pelham.

But a year later, she was diagnosed with scoliosis.

“This is a sideways curvature of the spine. My spine curved by 40 degrees. I had to undergo surgery, or I could have bruised my heart or lungs. Since then, I have been unable to dance.”

She then turned to her second passion. “Since I was young, I loved doing nails and make-up.

“My parents supported my idea of starting a home-based salon and enrolled me in a nail technician course. Thereafter, I started Facebook and Instagram pages - Nails by Tash and Makeup_Nails by Tash.

“I had clients from the area, but the national lockdown started, and I had to close the business. But I could not sit idle at home. I completed a make-up course, and once I reopen this month, I will offer both services. As long as I am able to do things, I will do it. I will not allow anything to stop me, or get in my way.”

Lesley Hall, director of the KZN Cerebral Palsy Association, said it was vital to create awareness about the condition.

“Too often, you find that able-bodied people do not know how to address those with cerebral palsy or those in a wheelchair. They tend to, either not see the person in the wheelchair or feel some sort of a shame to interact with them. We are trying to stop that mindset.”

She said the association had Pevensey Place - Cerebral Palsy Home for Adults in Underberg in the KZN Midlands, that taught those with the disorder to farm to earn a living.

“Their tenacity to do so much with the little that they can give is inspiring.”

The KZN Cerebral Palsy Association has two schools for children with cerebral palsy - in Mariannhill, west of Durban, and uMlazi, south of Durban - where children are taught in isiZulu.

The association has a support group on WhatsApp for parents or family members who would like to know more about cerebral palsy.

For information, call the association at 031 942 3867 or email [email protected]

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