Stem cells changed a rugby player’s life after paralysis

Heinrich “Ollie” Terblanche. (Photo: Facebook)
Heinrich “Ollie” Terblanche. (Photo: Facebook)

“I now have a two-pack,” Ollie Terblanche jokes.

Family and friends were overwhelmed with joy when Heinrich “Ollie” Terblanche (29) defied his prognosis to stand beside his bride on his wedding day. Though he had to use crutches, it was still an impressive feat – considering there was a time it was feared he’d never regain the use of his arms or legs.

It’s been two years since Ollie was paralysed following an injury during a rugby game. And he keeps amazing people with his recovery.

Ollie, who’s from George in the Western Cape, has regained the use of two abdominal muscles after a stem-cell transfusion, and has much improved bladder control.

He still dreams of tossing his crutches away one day.

“My hands are stronger and the fact that I have more bladder control means a great deal to both my wife and me,” Ollie says.

These days he can even walk on a treadmill for up to an hour and 20 minutes – before the wedding he could only do 20 minutes.

In January 2015 Ollie’s life changed in an instant. He’d been playing prop for the SWD Eagles rugby team when, in the 58th minute, the scrum collapsed on him. Ollie stayed down when all the other players had got back up.

He’d fractured his neck at the C5 and C6 vertebrae and doctors told him he might be paralysed for life. But his fiancée, Chanel (28), refused to accept the diagnosis. The two of them started fighting back and in January 2017 he was able to stand next to her at the altar.

Though he still uses his wheelchair often, he’s made great progress, Ollie says.

As for married life – it’s a huge blessing. “Even if I’m never completely healed, the fact that Jesus sent her to me is my greatest gift.”

The couple enjoy working out together. “The exercise helps a lot. It offers an escape and it’s also an escape from my wheelchair.”

There are times he still gets frustrated, he adds. “Then I just look at my wife and think of where I want to be. We’re taking things one day at a time.”

Chanel is a primary school teacher in George.

If everything goes according to plan, Ollie will be getting two more stem-cell transfusions – one later this year, and another next year – at the StemCure Clinic in White River, Mpumalanga.

“One day I’d like to be able to stand and walk without crutches. I’d like to be able to hold my kids one day.”

In the meantime, he’s working on a new coffee brand. “I’m passionate about coffee, so I had this idea of selling coffee for a greater cause.”

He’s planning on donating part of the profits from the coffee to other sportspeople with similar injuries.

By day he’s studying online and he’s completed a certificate in nutrition. He’s also working on a qualification relating to exercise for people in wheelchairs and the able-bodied.

Ollie wants to express his gratitude toward the generous people of George who helped him afford his stem-cell therapy through fundraising efforts.

“George is an incredible community,” he says. “Soon after the injury I realised how easy it is to hide away, but that we all need other people.”

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