Roger Wolfson steps in to save the day
By Chandrea Serebro
The nine-year-olds dreaming of being president out there are probably a dime a dozen and Malwande Mahlangeni from Summerwood Primary School (previously Fairmount Primary School) is not much different, except in one very big way. Malwande only has one leg after a congenital deformity known as Amniotic Bands Syndrome, a rare birth defect, caused his left leg to be amputated below the knee when he was two years old. And while there have been famous presidents with disabilities before who have gone on to greatness, until recently Malwande was in such terrible pain that even being a normal nine-year-old kid was impossible.
“My life has been very difficult since I lost my leg. This made basic things very hard for me. It was so bad because I couldn’t do what other boys could do, like run and play soccer. Even at school, the steps were so hard for me. I would get tired and very frustrated. I was in pain for a long time. I had an old wooden leg. It kept falling off. It hurt me. I used to get frustrated with myself because I couldn’t play or do what other children could do. I didn’t feel normal.”
Children often teased Malwande and, because of this, he never told anyone about his wooden leg, enduring their teasing over his limp and the way that he walked. “They would often ask why I was walking funny. I just ignored them, but it hurt my heart. I also felt it was easier being teased because of my limp than being teased because I didn’t have a leg.” So it was that one day a group of Malwande’s peers came running to his teacher Pam Kantor –affectionately known as Miss K – in a panic, to say that Malwande’s leg had fallen off. Putting two and two together, Pam found him in the foetal position, crying, his Government Issue wooden leg next to him, the duct tape that had been holding it together in shreds.
“Malwande has an energy that lights up a room. He is a hard worker, and his optimism for life is incredible. He is always so positive. However, I could see deep down he was in pain. I wanted to do something, but how? My heart broke upon seeing the state of his leg.” Malwande’s prosthetic leg, which no longer fitted him properly, was desperately in need of being replaced with a new prosthetic leg and foot, which costs in the region of R50 000 to R80 000. “I then turned to Facebook. I wanted to let people know how brave he was – and straight away miracles started happening.” Despite his pain, Malwande never let his situation get to him. “I felt hopeless, but because I believe in G-d I was hopeful one day something good would happen. I just want to be like normal boys.”
People started sending messages and words of encouragement, and throughout the journey Pam insists that it was a host of angels that answered the call. But one angel, Braam Shevel, contacted Roger Wolfson who committed to helping Malwande, turning that day which Malwande had been dreaming of into a soon-to-be reality. Roger, a medical orthotist and prosthetist, was no stranger to helping people, and he feels “lucky to have had a patient like Malwande”, grateful to have been able to help him, and ecstatic at the outcome that was achieved. “I have been doing this for over 40 years, and I’ve learned that you have to help where you can.”
Roger is keenly aware of the difficulties in life that his patients have to endure, and it motivates him to help out where and when he can and he is always trying to find cross-funding and government grants to further the pro-bono work that he does. Meeting Roger was “the start of a new journey for Malwande”, says Pam, who took him to each appointment and watched the transformation happen. “Here comes a little boy from Alex. He has not known a day in his life without pain. He could never afford a new leg, and was pitiful on his old wooden leg. But thanks to Roger he got a new leg, and a whole lot more.We loved our appointments. We are all ecstatic over his new leg.”
“Prosthetics in children need to be replaced regularly as a child grows. In Malwande’s case, the need to be fitted with a new prosthetic leg and foot was a huge priority. I am just so happy that I was able to help him, get him walking.” It’s not an easy profession, says Roger, and you never know who or what you will get as your next patient. But, being the “stand-up” guy that Roger is, the “angel” that Pam describes, Roger always tries to find common ground with his patients, make them feel at home, and get active with them and their new prosthesis – which often entails showing off karate kicks, dance moves, or soccer skills.
For Malwande, Roger “made me feel whole again”. “The new leg has changed my life. I can play soccer. I can run, walk, and kick. No one asks me questions any more. I’m so proud to be me. Thank you Miss K for what you did for me. You are the best teacher. You helped change my life. I love you. Roger – my hero. I thank you for all the fun times at our appointments. Thank you for making my dreams come true. I can play like every other boy now. You are the best. I love my new leg.”
Malwande has grown so much from this experience, into a more confident, happier child, and loves his new walk and look – thanks to Roger, Pam, and their host of angels. Even academically he is doing so much better, says Pam. “Now he not only walks and runs, but he is flying in every way. Malwande has big dreams. He would maybe like to be president one day. But he would also maybe want to become like Roger and help other children like himself.”