Losing the ability to walk can affect one’s independence; losing mobility in the prime of youth can send the victim into isolation. For the past 15 years Cornelius Francois, better known as ‘Collins’, of Georgeville, has not had the mobility nor the means to get around without help.
The loss of independence has caused him to struggle through the physical and social challenges of disability. Hopefully, he will be less dependent on others through the use a motorised wheelchair, which he received recently from a community-based group, Helping Hands of Helen (HHH). HHH is a not-for-profit organisation founded by Hoggarth ‘Seaga’ Stephen to give back to Georgeville – his boyhood community – and the wider country. Stephen, who is an Environmental Engineer, lives and works in the United States.
The wheelchair was acquired in collaboration with partners in the U.S. “I am very grateful to Hoggarth and all the other sponsors who made it possible for me to get the wheelchair,” says Francois, who now has the means to do some moving about unassisted. Still required are the ramps and easier surface to facilitate movement from his place of abode (where the physical conditions are shabby at best) to the main road. Until such time that the appropriate work is done, he will need some assistance when leaving and re-entering home with the motorised wheelchair. Once he is on the main road he can self-drive himself to the city centre if needs be.
The battery-powered ‘Jazzy Select Elite’ wheelchair drives at a maximum speed of 4 m.p.h and can cover up to 15 miles. It has several electronic and safety features, such as intelligent braking, disc park brake, and anti-tip wheels. The weight carrying capacity is 300 lbs. Francois demonstrated the mechanical power of his gift with a straight, successful climb of the hill that connects Georgeville to Lapansee Road.
Francois has four children – two living overseas and the other two in St. Lucia. “I had those kids early, early, but their moms have them on a different programme” he says with an expression that seems to mix pride with regret. A domestic incident 15 years ago eventually landed Francois in a wheelchair. On that fateful day he was stabbed in what he indicated was his upper back just below the right shoulder. There was no indication that his spine was disturbed in any way and there were no immediate signs of paralysis. So the young man continued life as normal, playing football, etc., until days later when he started feeling pain and weakness in the lower half of his body. He was tested and X-rayed at hospital,
but when doctors said they found no serious injury, he was given pills and sent home. His difficulties continued, however, and this time he was admitted and a programme of therapy prescribed. His life has been a roller-coaster ever since. He says his condition has had its costs, especially in family loyalty. He doesn’t consider himself an invalid. “I can say my knees are paralysed and my waist is a little stiff, but apart from that I have sensation in my whole body,” he says. “I can move; I can stand with crutches, but not for long because it can be real tiring.”He started a rogramme of physio-therapy early during his injury but eventually dropped out because he could no longer afford the fees. “The last time I had therapy was a long, long time ago and it was very expensive,” Francois recalls.
“A day for me a tough because I don’t really have an income, but I do a little hustling and I survive with the help of friends who check for me and give me a handout,” he says, adding that he is still capable of using his brains and hands to earn an income, perhaps assembling parts for electronic items.It is the intention of HHH to set up a solar power apparatus to recharge the batteries for the wheelchair, but in the meantime Francois is confident he can depend on friends and neighbours in Georgeville to recharge the batteries.