Life after a spinal injury

Babalo Brandon Pholosi.
Babalo Brandon Pholosi.

The Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre (WCRC) based in Lentegeur is a specialised rehabilitation centre for persons with physical disabilities due to traumatic incidents such as disease-related conditions, road traffic accidents and interpersonal violence.

The facility treats approximately 53% of patients suffering from spinal injuries per year in the Western Cape.

“The main causes of spinal cord injuries treated at the WCRC are interpersonal violence, specifically gunshot and stab wounds. We treat victims of road traffic accidents and other accidents such as falls. We also have some disease-related conditions such as TB, spine or spinal cancer which affects the spinal cord,” explained Jonathan Vaughn, CEO of the WCRC.

Babalo Brandon Pholosi (37), a former patient and WCRC peer supporter from Site C, Khayelitsha, contracted spinal TB, an infectious disease which spread to his spine, paralysing him for life. He contracted the disease in 2000 in the Eastern Cape and travelled to the Western Cape, where he eventually went to a hospital two years later in 2002 and was referred to the WCRC for rehabilitation treatment and support.

“It was hard trying to adapt in society and in an area which is not conducive for wheelchair-bound people. When I received treatment at the WCRC for four months, I was trained and given techniques by the physiotherapist on how to move my body from the ground or bed to my wheelchair and how to control my bowel movements,” said Pholosi.

“I was frustrated at first, but the WCRC introduced me to ballroom and Latin dancing, which was taught at the facility by private instructors as part of the rehabilitation programme in 2002. I have come to love dancing over the past eleven years, and I get to travel and experience new things,” said Pholosi.

After he was discharged from the WCRC, he was approached by a staff member to become a peer supporter to encourage others to get through their spinal cord injury programme. Peer supporters are volunteers who are non-professional and non-clinical. They assist individuals with similar conditions or circumstances to achieve long-term recovery, for example, after a spinal cord injury.

“This disability has not stopped me,” said Pholosi. He went on to compete in ballroom dancing competitions and won medals in the ballroom Latin dance category. Determination has allowed him to represent the Western Cape in ballroom Latin dance in 2014. “There is life after a spine injury. Don’t give up, push through, find healthy habits and dream again,” said Pholosi.

As a WCRC peer supporter, Pholosi assists and encourages other patients on the spinal cord injury rehabilitation programme once a week to find hope and not give up on life and their dreams.

“The length of stay for a patient with spinal cord injury ranges between 60 and 90 days depending on the degree of disability, medical needs, the patient’s home environment and the rehabilitation goals. Once the patient has been discharged, the person will be referred to the community-based service (CBS) to work more closely with and provide support to the patient at home. We train family members and carers to care for the patient, to better understand the potential and limitations of the patient and how to prevent complications from occurring such as pressure sores,” said Vaughn.

Benefits for patients who have been discharged from the WCRC are unlimited access to the Health and Wellness Centre, which provides a hydro pool and gym facilities. The rehab programme is outcome-based using the International Classification of Functions (ICF). The interdisciplinary team work together with the patients and family to give them hope that they can live a fulfilling life despite the limitations of their disability. The team of doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, social workers, psychologists and dietitians identify what the patients’ goals are and what their condition will likely allow them to achieve. They focus on helping each patient to learn to adapt to their disability and function optimally in their home and work environment. A large part of the rehabilitation is training and caring for the family member, and specific training is provided before the patient is discharged.

From around 453 spinal cord injured patients admitted per year, the majority (63%) come from the Acute Spinal Cord Injury Units (ASCI) at Groote Schuur and Tygerberg hospitals. The rest will be referred from other district or regional hospitals, private and other areas such as the primary healthcare platform. The Emergency Medical Services (EMS) has responded to 69 650 incidents relating to motor vehicle, motorcycles, train and railway accidents, interpersonal violence with a deadly weapon, and cycling, bus and taxi accidents between January and October 2019 in the Western Cape. A percentage of these cases are spinal cord injury-related and treated at the various hospitals in the province and referred for rehabilitation services at the WCRC.

Residents are encouraged to be responsible, vigilant and more alert on the roads, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy lifestyle and do regular back exercises at home. If you are experiencing severe and continuous backache, visit your nearest Community Day Centre (CDC) for a checkup.

V For more info on the WCRC, visit

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