Living with a disability

Monday September 14, 2020 Written by Published in Local
Alexander Boaza is residing in Australia but hopes to return home to Rarotonga some day in the foreseeable future. FACEBOOK/20091303 Alexander Boaza is residing in Australia but hopes to return home to Rarotonga some day in the foreseeable future. FACEBOOK/20091303

Cook Islander Alexander Boaza writes about his journey living with a disability. The story was originally published by the Cook Islands National Disability Council and is republished with permission.

My name is Alexander Boaza. My journey living with a disability began over three years ago (07/02/17) when I was living in Rarotonga.

I suffered a spinal cord injury (L2, L3) which landed me in hospital for three weeks. And must I add that during these three weeks in Rarotonga hospital I had not yet been diagnosed with a spinal cord injury (SCI) even though all my symptoms were that of an SCI.

After three weeks I was finally transferred to Middlemore Hospital Auckland where I was diagnosed with a SCI and underwent surgery two days after my arrival.

I remained in the Auckland Spinal Unit for three months where I received intense treatment and rehabilitation. During this time, I was unable to use my legs as I was now paralysed (a quadriplegic) from the waist down.

My life changed drastically and I had to learn how to do everything differently from my wheelchair.

Unfortunately, I was unable to return to Rarotonga as I needed to continue rehabilitation for a whole year in New Zealand, which for my particular condition, the Cook Islands could not cater for.

Now I have built up enough strength in my legs to walk again assisted by crutches, which I have been doing for the last year and a half. This I am thankful to my Heavenly Father.

When I returned to Rarotonga in October 2018 for five months (now walking assisted with crutches), I found that access into many buildings on the island was inaccessible for those in wheelchairs or with crutches. This is due to steps/stairs when entering buildings and smooth tiled surfaces which is a big hazard as ones can easily slip and seriously injure themselves. This I found to be a real challenge.

Also, most of the island does not have a foot path on the side of the road. Nor are there any disabled toilets. This too is a challenge as it can stop wheelchair users and those with crutches from experiencing the outdoors.

Added to all these challenges and frustration is mental illness, which many people suffering a physical disability experience due to the loss of freedom such as the ability to do the normal everyday things like self-care, cooking, house chores, and just being able to enjoy what everyone else is enjoying, and the loss of employment.

However, these challenges and many more can be fixed by educating and training the people of our Ipukarea about disability. This can be done either through the schools, Te Marae Ora - Cook Islands Ministry of Health, local businesses, TV and radio.

I also believe that it is absolutely vital for doctors and nurses to be educated and trained in the area of spinal cord injury. This will ensure a more accurate diagnosis in patients with an SCI.

If these challenges are addressed through education and training, and introduced to the people of the Cook Islands, this will help tremendously. It can be done! Even with small gradual steps.

Earlier I mentioned that I was in the Rarotonga Hospital for three weeks. The nurses that took care of me during that time did an exceptional job. Words cannot express how thankful I am to these nurses. Thank you Apii Mateariki and the team in the medical ward. I am also thankful to my friends and family who took the time to care for me.

I am residing in Australia now but I do intend to return to Rarotonga some day in the foreseeable future.

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