Updated 27 October 2017

‘I woke up paralysed’

'I woke up one morning and my right leg was completely lame.'

He was once a carefree youngster who loved sport with all his heart.  

The outdoors was his world and as an all-rounder. He competed in everything from water polo to basketball, tennis to athletics. Life was about fun and enjoying every moment of it. 

But one fateful morning in 2010, David Cox’s life turned upside down.

“I was in Grade 9 at boarding school,” he recalls. “I woke up one morning; my right leg was completely lame. It felt like there was nothing there. And with my right arm, I had a few pins and needles. I couldn’t move them, I couldn’t pick it up, and I couldn’t do anything.” 

In a moment of disbelief and shock, the then 16-year-old remembers lying in bed waiting, thinking his limbs may have just ‘gone to sleep’ after lying on them at an odd angle.

“I thought it [the sensation] would come back and it just never did,” he says.

Eventually King Edward VII School called his parents and David was rushed to the emergency room.

“The whole drive was extremely sad,” he says quietly. “I didn’t know what to think.”

David hoped the doctors were going to be able to fix whatever was wrong – but he didn’t know just how serious it was.

After an MRI scan, he was booked for surgery the very next morning. Doctors had discovered a tumour the size of a tennis ball around the bones in the top of his spine.

“I knew it was bad because I wasn’t going home and had to do surgery the next morning. But my dad protected me from what was going on.”

David Cox

The surgery was a success. Doctors removed the tumour and David spent six months learning to walk again.

But then he was dealt yet another blow – he lost his mom to cancer.

“By the time I went to the hospital she was already in hospice. She passed away when I was in the hospital.” 

Still reeling from the loss of his mom, David managed to matriculate and went on to study psychology at Wits University.

But soon after he began experiencing severe headaches again. Further tests revealed the cerebral spinal fluid was leaking and building up in his neck.

He was in and out of hospital countless times over the next five years, forcing him to drop out of his course. He underwent 26 operations between 2010 and 2015.

“The final operation was on the 24 December 2015. When I woke up from that one, I couldn’t move from shoulders down.”

That’s when he was told that he was now an incomplete quadriplegic. He was informed that he would never be able to move his arms or legs ever again.

David Cox

“There was a time I felt like giving up,” he admits.

He slipped into depression. He had to rely on people to even scratch his nose, he says.

“I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to do anything. But finally, I got my mind right.”

Now David is taking each day as it comes. 

He’s currently receiving treatment at Ann Harding Cheshire Home, which provides a variety of service for adults with severe permanent disabilities.

“I can move both my arms but can’t use my right arm. I can slightly move both legs a little bit.” 

At the moment he can also sit in his wheelchair.

He tries to find the positive in everything. David says he’s grateful to friends that have been supporting him.

“They help me and no matter what they always come back.”

His dad and grandfather are the pillars of strength, he says.

“My dad is always calling me, without them I don’t think I would be able to survive.”

His message is for people not throw in the towel.  

“As bad as it may seem, you’ve gone through so much already that giving up is not an option no matter how hard it is every day or how down you feel.”

David Cox, wheelchair

He’d advise others to find “a little positivity” that will push them through difficult moments.

“Fight to live another day... there are people who love and care for you.”  

He misses being a sportsman but he’s now focusing on getting better.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, he has physiotherapy and occupational therapies.

“I also do a bit of work at the home, checking up on things like newspapers and helping people.”

He’s got a few job opportunities as well including a personal assistant job that he’d like to try out.

“I think I can definitely do something like that,” he says, sounding cheerful.

“One day, I’d like to go back and complete my psychology degree even if it’s through Unisa.” 

Image credits: Supplied by David Cox