Brave amputee boy goes home for festive season after nine months in hospital

Tenacious Owethu can’t be kept down

Thursday, January 12 2017

Pic. Owethu Chibure learns to use prosthetic legs at Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital. He underwent nine months of extensive rehabilitation at the hospital following a bacterial infection that resulted in his limbs having to be amputated earlier this year

Eight-year-old Owethu Chibure from Sasolburg is thrilled to at last be going home, in time to be with his family for the festive season, after having spent nine months of extensive rehabilitation at a Johannesburg hospital following a bacterial infection that resulted in his limbs having to be amputated earlier this year.

Owethu suffered a life-threatening sepsis complication after contracting a meningococcus bacterial infection and had to have both of his legs amputated below the knees, as well as his left hand and all of the fingers on his right hand.

Today, after receiving lifesaving treatment at the paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at Netcare Garden City Hospital and many months of intensive therapy by a multi-disciplinary team at Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital, Owethu is fully mobile, using the prosthetic limbs that have been custom made for him. He is also having a ‘bionic’ myoelectric hand fitted, which will help him to perform such tasks as tying his shoelaces or typing on a computer.

“Do you know that I can take care of myself and don’t need the help of the nurses anymore? I can also put my legs on by myself,” Owethu announced proudly with a smile before he gulped a glass of water, which he adeptly grasped firmly between the stump of his left hand and the five little stubs of his right hand, all that remain of his fingers.

“I am tired; we went for a long walk this morning,” Owethu continued, before getting up suddenly, jumping into his wheelchair and racing after Dr Verginia Wilson, the medical practitioner who was responsible for his overall care at Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital.

“Owethu is the longest staying paediatric patient we have ever cared for at the hospital,” says Dr Wilson. “He is a truly remarkable boy; a real survivor who, thanks to his tenacity and bravery as well as committed support by his parents and appropriate medical care and rehabilitation, has succeeded in overcoming massive physical as well as emotional trauma.

“Seeing him today you would never believe that Owethu had undergone such a harrowing journey this past year. He has unbelievable vigour and spirit, and has been an inspiration to the doctors and staff at the hospital. We will all miss his wonderful energy.

“Owethu has shown such determination in his recovery that I would not be surprised if he went on to become one of South Africa’s great paralympians in the future,” notes Dr Wilson, who has 16 years experience in the field of paediatric rehabilitation.

Dr Wilson explains that it has by no means been an easy journey for the young man who seems to light up the faces of all of those who meet him. The meningococcus infection he contracted at the beginning of 2016 caused blood clots to shoot into his smaller blood vessels, effectively causing his extremities to become necrotic or, in other words, to start dying.

“It was a life-threatening situation and Owethu was admitted to Netcare Garden City Hospital, under the care of paediatric intensivist, Dr Myles Bartlett, who managed to stabilise him. Plastic surgeon, Dr Ridwan Mia, performed the amputations at the hospital as well as a number of procedures thereafter to facilitate healing and enable the fitting of prosthetic limbs.

“After the amputations, Owethu was understandably distraught and kept asking what had happened to his bandaged hands and legs. His wounds still required healing and considerable care when he was first admitted to Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital on 30 March this year,” relates Dr Wilson.  

The therapy practice based at Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital, says that Owethu required the care of a full multi-disciplinary paediatric rehabilitation team, including occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech therapy, to assist him to recover and to become mobile once more.

“The doctor and nursing staff cared for his wounds in the first weeks of his stay, and he had to have months of special intensive physical rehabilitation and be carefully fitted out for prosthetics. Owethu and his family were also provided with the necessary psychosocial support to assist in getting them through this difficult time. Using play therapy, the team also worked to equip him to deal with his reintegration into community life.”

Heinrich Grimsehl, an orthotist prosthetist who practises at Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital says: “Once Owethu’s wounds were healed sufficiently, his prosthetic legs could be fitted and he has been able to achieve excellent mobility using them. We made these adjustable so that he does not outgrow them too quickly.”

According to Grimsehl, Owethu’s high-tech myoelectric hand uses sensors to detect electrical signals generated naturally by his own muscles that controlled his hand before amputation. The myoelectric hand is designed to mimic human anatomy and motion, and is covered by a natural looking glove.

“The battery for the myoelectric hand only arrived recently and we will be working with Owethu to get him completely adept at using it early in the new year. He will then be able to use it in his daily activities. However, he has practised with the hand extensively using a computer and quickly became familiar with it,” notes Grimsehl.

“In the new year we are going to donate a further body powered prosthetic arm with a cable operated hook to Owethu completely free of charge in his honour. This hook will be waterproof and more hardwearing than the myoelectric prosthesis, and he will be able to use it for his play and his sporting and water activities.  

 “It has been a long road to recovery for Owethu, but this interdisciplinary approach, combined with the young man’s own positive outlook and determination, as well as the absolute devotion and love of his family, have assisted him in his most impressive progress. Owethu will be attending Hope School in Johannesburg in 2017 and we see a great future ahead for this remarkable young man.”

Owethu’s father, Lazarus Chibure, said that his son’s condition had been difficult for the family, particularly as his recovery had taken so long. They had to travel from Sasolburg to Johannesburg every time they wanted to visit Owethu. He said he was now “greatly looking forward” to having his son at home for the holidays.

“There are so many people who were involved in Owethu’s care at both Netcare Rehabilitation and Netcare Garden City hospitals whom I would like to thank,” added Mr Chibure. “He received a great deal of loving care at both facilities and their teamwork is to a large extent responsible for getting Owethu home to us once more.”

“We would particularly like to express our thanks to Dr Wilson, Heinrich Grimsehl, Dr Bartlett, Dr Mia, Judi Wessels and all of the nursing and other staff involved in his care. I would also like to express my gratitude to SasolMed who funded his care, as well as to my wife Christinah Chibure for all of her support over this time. We as a family would also like to thank God for bringing our child back to us.”

Renowned plastic surgeon, Dr Ridwan Mia, who practises at Netcare Garden City Hospital, says that Owethu’s wounds had been extensive and had required skin grafts and a number of procedures. “I am extremely gratified to know that Owethu, who is such a tenacious and bright young man, has recovered to the point where he can go home and attend school next year,” he adds.

“We need to spread awareness of meningococcus infection in South Africa, as it can be a most dangerous, even fatal, infection for our children in particular. It is a bacterium that can cause a variety of disease including meningitis or, as in Owethu’s case, meningococcemia, which is a life-threatening sepsis. This is tragic, particularly as there is a vaccine available against the infection,” concludes Dr Mia.

Pic. Owethu Chibure shows a work of art he completed during play therapy at Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital.

Pic. Owethu Chibure shows off his new 'bionic' myoelectric hand. He will receive further training in its use early in the new year.



Issued by:           Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital
Contact :               Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville and Pieter Roussouw
Telephone:        (011) 469 3016
Email:                   [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected]