Former Paralympian Achmat 'Sharkboy' Hassiem's family share how he's doing after two months in a coma

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Achmat Hassiem has been in a coma for nearly two months following a routine spinal surgery. (PHOTO: Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Achmat Hassiem has been in a coma for nearly two months following a routine spinal surgery. (PHOTO: Gallo Images/Getty Images)

He's been in a coma for close to two months – and now Achmat Hassiem, better known as Sharkboy, is slowly showing signs of improvement.

The former Paralympian went in for routine spinal surgery at a Cape Town hospital in early September to sort out the niggling pain he’d been experiencing in his neck and back.

"It was like a pinched nerve,” Achmat’s brother, Taariq (32), told YOU last month. “They found he had some complications with the nerves in his back and that he needed surgery to put a stent in." 

Their mom, Thoraiyah, says Achmat was very positive before his surgery. “He told me, ‘Mommy, I’m going to be pain-free when this is over’.”

A day after his operation, however, Achmat, who won a bronze medal in the 100m butterfly at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, battled to breathe. He had to undergo an emergency operation in which doctors placed a stent in his neck to help him breathe and release the blood flow.

After the procedure, he was placed in a medically-induced coma – but when doctors tried to wake him up a few days later Achmat didn’t respond. He's been in a coma since.

Speaking to YOU, Taariq reveals Achmat went into cardiac arrest during his emergency surgery.

“There’s no exact cause but all the complications that are happening now are due to the cardiac arrest,” Taariq says.

Achmat has also been suffering bouts of infections, which has set his recovery process back, he adds.

“Two weeks ago, he had quite a bad infection that put his body under a lot of strain. It took him almost a week and a half of just lying in bed to get better."

The infection has since cleared but Achmat is not out of the woods yet, Taariq says.

“The biggest risk is an infection because he’s just lying there and his immune system is quite low, he's not doing anything."

READ MORE | First a shark attack, now a mystery coma: family on Paralympian Achmat Hassiem's ongoing battle

Despite the setbacks, Achmat’s condition has slowly been improving. The former Paralympian has come off of the ventilator and he's breathing on his own. His vital signs are also improving, much to his family's relief.

“All we can do is stay hopeful and stay positive. There are signs of improvement and that’s where we’re staying right now,” Taariq says.

Achmat was also moved to a rehabilitation center last week, where he’s receiving physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.

“They [rehab facility] are more intense when it comes to treatment. The hospital keeps you alive and in rehab, they work on reconnecting the brain with the body because that’s what he’s not doing,” he says.

Achmat has a long journey ahead of him but he has the love and support of his family, who has visited him every day since he slipped into a coma.

“Being clued up and knowing what is going on with Achmat helps us our mental health. It also helps to just have a conversation with him, it feels almost like normal, like going back to real life," Taariq says.

Doctors are not certain if and when Achmat may wake up from his coma, but when he does, Taariq says his family will be right there waiting for him.

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