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A workshop bringing together experts in rehabilitative care for people with physical disabilities, hosted by Rand Mutual (RMA) on Tuesday, culminated in Paralympic medallist Ernst van Dyk presenting four individuals with advanced prosthetics, designed to improve mobility.

“We are honoured to host Icelandic prosthetist orthotist, Professor Anton Johannesson, who shared some of his considerable knowledge with our delegates. We are certain that the techniques and ideas presented here will have far-reaching benefits in terms of extending improved quality of life to many individuals, for years to come,” says Dr Deodat Kritzinger, General Manager: Medical at RMA.

The rehabilitation workshop, held during National Disability Rights Awareness Month, was hosted at the Rand Mutual Care Facility. The state-of-the-art facility, which opened in Welkom in April, provides full-time custodial care for 16 residents at present, as well as a range of services, including pressure sore management, rehabilitation and pro-active health interventions, to other beneficiaries of RMA-administered compensation in terms of the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA).

“Prof Johannesson is clinical manager of prosthetics at Össur Nordic, a division of leading orthopaedics equipment manufacturer Össur. We are delighted that he is passing on some of the advanced techniques he has helped to develop to RMA’S prosthetics partner Marissa Nel & Associates, as well as to our other esteemed delegates,” Dr Kritzinger adds.

“These techniques, emphasising rehabilitation immediately post-amputation, hold considerable promise in getting patients mobile more quickly post-amputation. This presents psychological benefits for the individual, as well as for their physical health as the likelihood of developing certain co-morbidities that often arise after amputation are also meaningfully diminished.

“This is also good news in terms of healthcare savings, as it reduces the physical burden on care givers and the need for further support services. A prosthetic limb can now be manufactured within an hour – saving time and thereby saving money – so that funding for people with disabilities can go further, benefiting more individuals,” he explains.

The workshop also provided an opportunity for Rand Mutual Care Facility’s new skills development programme to be presented for discussion. “The development of this facility meant that we were better able to cater for the physical care and rehabilitation of our COIDA beneficiaries, and now we are able to offer them training towards reintegration into economic activity,” Dr Kritzinger notes.

“This speaks to RMA’s commitment to holistic rehabilitation; not only physical rehabilitation as they grow stronger from the physical injuries sustained, but also in terms of the psycho-social aspects of recovery. A large part of this process is overcoming the effects that sudden disability can have on self-perception. Our residents were previously employed in jobs that were very physical in nature, and often they identify themselves in terms of those physical capabilities that have changed since their accidents.

“This skills development programme aims to show beneficiaries new aspects of their capabilities through acquiring new skills. Not only will the residents be taught new competencies that they might never otherwise have achieved, it is hoped that they will also see themselves in a new light.

“Some of the training projects we are introducing at the Rand Mutual Care Facility for the benefit of our residents are business skills development and learning to build prosthetics. These projects hold promising potential for the upskilling of residents,” he adds.

“Such training can set residents, particularly those who are younger, on a new career path, enabling them to fully integrate back into the working world in a new capacity. We also envisage that, in time, opportunities such as these could lay the groundwork for future entrepreneurial prospects. Proactive rehabilitation in terms of skills development will have manifold benefits for the individuals and also, potentially, the socio-economic circumstances of their families and wider communities,” he says.

“Through empowering Rand Mutual Care Facility residents by helping them to overcome physical limitations, it is hoped that their successes will serve as inspiration to others in similar circumstances and provide them with hope when they need it most.”

Prostheses made and fitted using the techniques demonstrated by Prof Johannesson will be presented to four people at the close of the workshop. One of the four is RMA beneficiary Willem Bekker, who 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,” Mr Bekker relates.

Dr Deodat observes that, had the new techniques been available at the time of Mr Bekker’s amputation, he could have had a prosthesis fitted within days and been mobile far sooner.

Mr Bekker’s rehabilitation was fuelled by his passion for fishing, and he started making fishing paraphernalia, including fishing rod stands and fishing tackle boxes for sale – opening up a whole new avenue of economic opportunity for him. “I am motivated by things I love,” he says.

Dr Kritzinger adds: “The rehabilitation process is unique for each individual, and this process can be long and arduous but it is ultimately rewarding. It is our cherished hope that the insights shared here today will help to speed up this process so that individuals can recover more quickly after amputation.

“In addition, we believe that the skills development programme we are implementing at the Rand Mutual Care Facility will open new doors for our beneficiaries and help them to reintegrate into the workplace, or even forge entrepreneurial opportunities that they may have never otherwise dreamt of,” he concluded.