Spinal cord injury victim tells life story

A 34-year-old 2019 Pacific Games athlete has spoken of the horrors of his spinal cord injury and how his life changed after he was hospitalised.

Ofele John Lene of Vaitele-fou was a member of Samoa’s archery team and was injured at home a few weeks after the conclusion of the regional sporting event, leading to his hospitalisation for three months, and being consigned to the wheelchair to this very day.

In an interview with the Samoa Observer, Ofele said he has only started using the wheelchair for a couple of months and he now knows the challenges that come with living the life of a person with a disability.

Recalling how he injured his spinal column after falling and rolling down a hill, he said he experienced very little pain, until the next morning when his whole world changed.

“While I was doing chores at home, I was walking and I wasn’t watching where I was walking and there was a hole or a pit somewhere, and my footing just went off and just from that I did a little roll down from the hill and the back of my spinal cord hit the cement,” he told the Samoa Observer.

“At the time, I didn’t feel that much pain, I was able to get up but I just felt this little numbness at the lower part. On that very day, we had other family things going on, we went to a wedding, came home and still didn’t feel anything.

“The next morning, I felt like I wanted to get up to get a drink of water, when I got off my bed, my left leg gave off, it just died out, it was numb so I thought it could be an early morning numbness that happens all the time. 

“So I thought I’d just lie down for a bit and get up later, about maybe five or 10 minutes later, I stood up and both legs gave away and I literally fell flat forward.”

Ofele said he called out to his mum, telling her that he didn’t know what was happening as he couldn’t get up. His brothers then helped him up that day and he was taken to the hospital, where he found out that he had a swollen spinal cord.

The former athlete was hospitalised for three months and got to realise how his spinal cord injury had changed his life.

“I think I speak mostly for all the able people, if you were ever an abled person and then suddenly you get struck down at this point, whereby you’re disabled, it’s quite a blow in your life.

“I’m fairly new to the wheelchair. It’s only been a couple of months, but I’m grateful to my Heavenly Father not only for strengthening me mentally but also spiritually.

“I’ve heard stories of people who were able and got into this situation, they break down to the point where they don’t want to look or meet people and they would stay that way for years on end.”

Ofele revealed that he only had a week of breakdown but feels better now. And being the eldest of his two siblings and with their father passing on, he had to step up for his “A-game” since his injury as he had to provide for his family.

Expressing his appreciation to Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, for not giving up on him as an athlete,Ofele said he did his best at that time to get the best results for his team and country.

“When I got into this accident, he [Prime Minister Tuilaepa] was one of the strongest supporters to get me going and getting me back,” Ofele added. 

“I was appointed to be the coach due to years of experience that I had because what I knew, I might as well teach it to the young ones.”

Before the accident Ofele had a part-time job and supporting his family was the best thing for him. He is currently the coach for the Samoa Archery Association.

When asked if he missed being able to walk, Ofele said things happened for a reason and people just have to accept it.

“No one that was abled never misses trying to get back, the thing is, you just have to accept how things are and you must understand that things happen for a reason. I was a good guy when I was able but I feel like I became a better person since I’ve been on the chair.”

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