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RMA Stories of Triumph

20 April 2016

RMA beneficiaries share stories of triumph after life-changing accidents

Monday, 18 April 2016, A question that humankind has grappled with for centuries: what defines us as individuals? In the wake of a life-altering accident, particularly one that precludes a person from performing the job they once did, many people question how disability may impact on their identity.

As Rand Mutual Assurance (RMA) launches a new state-of-the-art care facility in Welkom for its beneficiaries and pensioners, in terms of the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA), three RMA beneficiaries shared their own personal experiences of rehabilitation.

“It was very painful to come to terms with the fact that I will not be able to walk again,” says Jemina Nkhale, 35. Following a mining accident in 2010, Jemina recalls that she was initially concerned about how she would manage to care for her young son after the amputation of her legs.

“It was strange at first, I had to accept that something had changed in my life. Then one day I decided that I am so grateful to be alive, even if I do not have my legs anymore. Now, I don’t let that get me down.”

Jemina says that critical to this shift in self-image was changing her focus from her injury to the things that she was able to do. “I look at my abilities. I can make my house beautiful and clean, and since my accident I have been blessed with a daughter. I can look after my children and I am very happy to still be alive. The things I enjoy the most are cooking delicious food for my family and listening to gospel music, and I don’t need legs to do those things.”

Due to the nature of her injury, Jemina could not resume her former job as an underground mineworker. Instead her employer, Harmony Gold, reskilled Jemina and she now works in an administrative role. “People often say to me, ‘You are always smiling,’ and I tell them, ‘Thank God I’m still alive and I can do whatever I want to do’.”

Another RMA beneficiary, 56-year-old Willem Bekker, sustained an occupational injury to his ankle in 2010 and, in spite of a series of operations, his left leg had to be amputated below the knee in 2013.

“I had to allow some healing time before I could have a prosthesis fitted, but I’m a real ‘busy body’ so I could not wait for that. I started going around in a wheelchair and soon I was making things in my workshop. I’m a boilermaker by trade, but my first love is fishing.”

Willem started making fishing paraphernalia, including fishing rod stands and fishing tackle boxes. “I am motivated by things I love, and so I also joined a fishing club. Now I take part in league fishing, competitions and trials for fishing colours. People in the fishing club see me as no different from the other guys, and my disability definitely does not stop me from catching the big fish.”

Costa Chrisafopoulos, 74, is a woodwork craftsman and amateur painter, who has immersed himself in his hobbies since his retirement. In 1965, when Costa was only 23, he was rendered paraplegic as a result of an underground mining accident. “I spent 11 months in hospital, and the following year I resumed work at the same mine where I had worked before my injury, but in a different capacity.”

Costa explains that he has always had an affinity for working with his hands, and had an interest in making household items that he and his wife needed. “I taught myself woodwork and during my career I would make things on the weekends out of wooden sleepers. When I retired, I had more time to dedicate to this hobby, and my wife and I also took painting lessons from a professional artist. I mainly like to paint nature and animals,” he adds.

Costa says that he does not feel defined by the fact that he is in a wheelchair: “I was born in Greece and I still have some memories of the Second World War and the deprivation of the post-war years in Europe, and this taught me to appreciate things and the value of life itself. I’m no different from other people, although I do consider myself fortunate to have a positive attitude.”

Chairman of the RMA Board Dr Vincent Maphai says that while RMA covers the costs of medical care, including both physical and psychological rehabilitation therapy, for workers injured in the line of duty, some aspects of their recovery are deeply personal.

“It is our mandate and privilege as Rand Mutual Assurance to provide caring, compassionate compensation to its pensioners living with the effects of occupational injuries. Such is the nature of the human spirit, that there are certain aspects of a person’s rehabilitation journey that they must negotiate for themselves, even with all the support in the world,” he observes.

“It is these stories of triumph that we wish to share, because Willem, Jemina and Costa have negotiated their own personal challenges and come so far in their journeys that they provide hope and inspiration to us all.

“With the opening of the Rand Mutual Care Facility in Welkom, we hope to help other RMA pensioners on their own paths to self-actualisation through providing an enabling environment, new opportunities and appropriate care tailored to the needs of our beneficiaries,” Dr Maphai concluded.

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