MY STORY | I've had 49 surgeries to deal with spina bifida and I won't stop fighting to live my life

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Doug Anderson speaks on living with spina bifida. (Photo: Supplied)
Doug Anderson speaks on living with spina bifida. (Photo: Supplied)

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.

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.

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: 

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