First aider doesn’t dwell on ‘what-ifs’

16 May 2019 | Story Niémah Davids. Photo Michael Hammond. Read time 5 min.
Esna Vermeulen says having her eyes on the players and the ball simultaneously is the best strategy.
Esna Vermeulen says having her eyes on the players and the ball simultaneously is the best strategy.

A medical doctor once compared the amount of energy it takes Esna Vermeulen to breathe to the energy it takes a fit and healthy athlete to run a half marathon. That was about six years ago.

Vermeulen suffers from congenital fibre type disproportion (CFTD), a rare muscle disease that causes muscle weakness and low muscle tone, and hampers a person’s ability to walk. CFTD also has other side-effects, one of which is scoliosis – side-to-side curvature of the spine which typically affects the chest and lower back.

The 21-year-old psychology student in the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Faculty of Humanities can’t sleep without a ventilator or an oxygen concentrator – a device that concentrates the oxygen from room air by selectively removing nitrogen and other compounds to supply 90% oxygen-enriched air.

She also carries an oxygen and heart-rate monitor with her every day. Even though she would really like to walk, over the years it’s become physically difficult and taxing on her lungs so she uses a wheelchair to get around.

Yet Vermeulen remains positive and undeterred by her condition. She believes in making the most of life regardless of her circumstances. Encouraging others to follow suit is high on her list of priorities.

“I was about three years old when doctors confirmed my condition. Today, I can still walk with an aid for short distances, but my muscles don’t like to because I haven’t been doing it often enough,” she explained.

 

“Don’t dwell on the what-ifs. You have to adapt and make the most of the now to secure a bright future.”

“Don’t dwell on the what-ifs. You have to adapt and make the most of the now to secure a bright future.”

Vermeulen was part of the team of first-aid officers on duty at last weekend’s Interclub Wheelchair Rugby Tournament, organised by the UCT Students Sports Union (SSU) in partnership with the Office for Inclusivity and Change (OIC) in support of sport for people living with disabilities.

A helping hand

Her love for first aid started in high school in Mpumalanga. Participating in multiple sports was part of the school’s rules, she said. And if pupils were unable to do so, community service and certain cultural activities were considered worthwhile alternatives.

Luckily for Vermeulen, first-aid training counted towards pupils’ community service points. She “jumped at the opportunity”.

Vermeulen has reached level 3 in first aid, an advanced level of the training programme. At her high school she was the student first-aid coordinator for two years and during that time accumulated more than 50 hours of sports first aid.

“I love that first aid enables me to help others who are not okay,” she said.

That’s how she describes the role of a first-aid officer during a sports match, and rugby in particular.

Her strategy is to keep one eye on the tackled players, in case someone gets hurt, and the other on the ball. While it takes getting used to, it comes with the role.

“You need to watch the players in case anyone has a delayed injury or a concussion. You also need to watch the ball because that’s where the other players are. Basically, your eyes need to be everywhere at the same time!”

Another responsibility of the more experienced first aiders is the role of guiding and growing the confidence of newly qualified first-aid students on their first shifts, which Vermeulen enjoys.

Wonderful event

She would’ve “loved” to be among the scrum of wheelchairs, but because she uses an electric wheelchair and her muscles aren’t strong enough to wheel herself around in a manual one, claiming her spot on a team was out of the question.

But taking on the role of medic was one she grabbed with both hands.

“I am so proud to have been part of this wonderful event and to have made my contribution as a medic, even if it was just [for] blistered hands,” she said.

 

“I am so proud to have been part of this wonderful event and to have made my contribution as a medic, even if it was just [for] blistered hands.”

She’d love to see the appetite for parasports grow on campus with more able and disabled students participating in sporting events.

Saturday’s tournament was not limited to disabled participants only, but also welcomed the broader UCT community. Teams that participated in the event included the OIC and UCT Radio, as well as the UCT Goalball and Fencing teams and a team from Stellenbosch University.


Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.


TOP