A tale of personal healing

2010-08-18 00:00

STEPHEN Malherbe has written this book with the help of Christine M. Coates about his life as a sufferer of a rare disorder, Klinefelter’s syndrome.

This syndrome affects about one in 1 000 people. Instead of being born with either two XX chromosomes as a woman, or an XY chromosome as a man, sufferers of Klinefelter’s syndrome are born with an extra X chromosome, making them XXY. They are always boys, but they do not develop in the same way as normal boys do as they do not produce enough testosterone. They are also more sensitive, but they are unable to express themselves well.

The syndrome was largely unre-cognised for the first part of Malherbe­’s life. When he grew up in Johannesburg in the sixties, he was underdeveloped and unable to take part in sports. He also had learning difficulties, which made teachers label­ him as slow.

His home life wasn’t easy either. His mother worked night and day at two different jobs to make ends meet. Her husband had mental problems and couldn’t hold down a job. Bullied by his older macho brother, and largely ignored­ by his unstable father, Malherbe relied on his older sister to look after him. School wasn’t pleasant, but he had a small group of firm friends and they would play in the streets and beyond.

Malherbe’s exhausted mother finally noticed that her son wasn’t developing well and took him for tests. Unfortunately, the doctor who diagnosed him also sexually­ abused him. Malherbe endured these assaults without saying a word as a child didn’t criticise adults in those days.

Once diagnosed, regular testosterone injections were administered. Suddenly his body developed more normally. Malherbe escaped the army without doing basics due to his bad eyesight. He fell in and out of love, found employment and dealt with the setbacks caused by his syndrome. He was diagnosed with osteoporosis in his 40s, for example.

He finally found a secure love relationship in his 50s and wrote this book to heal himself of the wounds of being misunderstood. Through this process he made peace with himself and his world.

This is an interesting account of a little-known syndrome.

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