Doug Anderson was born with spina bifida, a congenital defect in which a foetus’ spinal cord fails to develop properly before birth.
Now 43, Doug, a radio personality and senior producer, has undergone a staggering 49 operations in his lifetime so far – the first one when he was just a few days old. This is his story.
“My condition left a hole in my lower back, dislocated my hips and caused me to have club feet and a build-up of fluid on the brain (hydrocephalus). All these complications meant I had to have surgery done on all these parts of my body.
I’ve had neurosurgery five times because my brain doesn’t have the mechanism to remove fluids from the brain.
I have had neurosurgery five times in 43 yrs. Three surgeries on the left side of my brain and twice on the right side of my brain. I wear my scars with pride. Share the stories around your scars using #MeAndMyScars . #TheVoiceOnWheels pic.twitter.com/EzwMY37Fer— Doug Anderson GCOB (@dougandersonza) September 1, 2020
There’s not much of my body that isn’t scarred. The scars mean that I showed up, put up a fight, and won. I overcame whatever tried to hurt me.
At the age of one, I had physiotherapy on my legs and hips, and then had surgery on both hips over a two-month period.
When I was three years old, physiotherapists started trying to help me to use my legs. My parents did the best they could, allowing me to be as ‘normal’ as I could be.
This picture shows some of the very first surgeries. The picture is of my lower back. The light green scar was the very first surgery I had (to close my back), at just 7 days old! Wear your scars PROUDLY! Tell the story behind your scars using #MeAndMyScars pic.twitter.com/fnexiXBvfN— Doug Anderson GCOB (@dougandersonza) September 1, 2020
Now I’m wheelchair bound. It’s very seldom that a year goes by that I don’t get ill or have to visit the doctor.
As you get older you get wear and tear on your body. Having a disability and getting old isn’t for sissies, hey!
I can’t do some of the things I was able to do when I was younger. Navigating through life is taxing on the body – getting in and out of my car is a job on its own, or even going out with friends.
Simple, everyday things are a challenge for me. There are still buildings that don't have lifts. There are times when people without disabilities park in the handicapped spot, which then means I have to try to find a parking space that’ll accommodate me. Living with spina bifida can be tough but I’ve chosen to not let it get me down, but rather I allow it to inspire me to make a difference. I’ve been blessed in many ways. My life has taken me in many directions and I’ve been blessed because of that.
It was at Hope School in Westcliff that I was introduced to sports for people with disabilities. In 1989 I was chosen to represent my province at the National Championships for the Physically Disabled from 1989 to 1997. Wheelchair racing and swimming are my speciality.
Between those years I won 39 gold medals, 16 silver medals and five bronze medals at the National Championships.
I was invited to compete in the All-African International Invitational in 1995 where I won bronze for 800m wheelchair racing. The highlight of my sporting career was in 1996 when I won Sportsman of the Year at the National Championships, bagging eight gold medals and broke eight South African records, and I was chosen to represent South Africa at the World Wheelchair Games in the UK that year, where I won bronze for 100m breaststroke.
I’ve made numerous attempts to gain employment in various industries and I was turned down repeatedly because of my disability. So I started my own business, a pet shop.
The business grew and more time became available for me to pursue other ventures and so I tried to enter the workplace once more. A colleague commented on my voice and said that I should try to get into radio, and I saw an advertisement in the newspaper for a radio presenting course. I did the course and the rest is history.
My career in radio has been interesting, to say the least. I managed to become successful in my career in the entertainment industry working in radio, where I’m known as The Voice on Wheels.
I want to continue sharing my story to inspire others not to give up. Heaven forbid that you should go through the same in your life. But if you do, I hope you can learn from mine.”
Doctors haven’t yet identified the cause of this birth defect but there are factors which can increase the risk of a baby developing it.
- If a family member has had spina bifida
- Not having sufficient folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, during pregnancy. This helps the body make healthy new red blood cells.
- Doctors will perform surgery soon as the child is born to try to close the opening in the spine and to treat the build-up of fluid in the brain.
- Physiotherapy and occupational therapy can help people with spina bifida manage day-to-day life.
Additional source: nhs.uk/conditions/spina-bifida