SA mom’s story on why she wants all disabled kids to share in life’s adventures

hen she saw her son, a quadriplegic, enjoy activities most kids like him can’t because of their physical limitations, Deirdré Gower felt compelled to do something about it.

After a routine measles vaccination at nine months went horribly wrong, Damian (now 20) suffered a loss of mobility and was left with limited speech.

But that never stopped Deirdré from giving her son the full experience of life.

At age two he got his first pony and soon rode in his first show, he later joined his mom on hikes, fun walks and would sit in a seat on Deirdré’s bicycle.

“I had a dream to start an organisation that supported and encouraged other children with disabilities and their families to share in these adventures with us,” she says.

Four years later her dream has grown into an organisation that aims to uplift and empower kids with disabilities by providing “special adventures tailored for special kids”.

Warriors on Wheels has since impacted 100 families, offering their differently-abled kids the opportunity to participate in running and cycling events – like the Cape Town Cycle Tour – boat cruises and even paragliding.

“To see children with disabilities experiencing adventures they otherwise wouldn’t have tried and to see them loving it, is the reason we do it,” Deirdré tells YOU.

The non-profit organisation relies on sponsorships and volunteers to host the events.

For Deirdré, it’s a fulfilling job like no other.

“They display so much courage and have experienced more than a lot of able-bodied people,” she says. “It’s a reminder to not take our abilities and opportunities for granted.”

Damian was born a healthy baby in November 1998 and reached all his development milestones at appropriate times.

But he had a severe reaction to the measles vaccination and contracted the viral infection. His temperature soared and he had a high-pitched, uncontrolled scream.

“It was soon after this that we noticed the first signs of regression,” she says.

“He was hunching over while sitting and needing to hold onto his legs to remain sitting. He lost his balance while standing up, holding onto furniture and falling over – all things he had no trouble with before.”

It was then that Deirdré, a single mother and living in East London at the time, realised something really was amiss.

“We didn’t initially make the connection to the vaccine,” she recalls. “The loss of his mobility wasn’t immediate, it took time. It started with his lower body and then progressed to his upper body.”

Tests were done and shortly after Damian’s first birthday a paediatrician suggested he had adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a disease that results in seizures and hyperactivity.

In 2016 three other volunteers came on board too and completed the tour with three more children. Warriors on Wheels has since branched out to other adventure activities with 100 children participating and Deirdré wants to see the foundation expand beyond the Western Cape.

“I’ve always wanted it to grow to other areas across South Africa so that children all over the country can enjoy the wonderful adventures and experiences that are available,” she says.

“We had the first three teams participating in the Knysna Cycle Tour this year, our first excursion out of Cape Town, and so I feel we’re at the start of expanding our services and impacting more families.”

Damian has an adventurous spirit and an incredibly positive attitude, his mom says.

“He is resilient – laughing his way through some of the toughest of times. People often ask if he’s always so happy.”

Damian is a tech-obsessed young man and dreams of becoming a DJ, she adds.

“He’s thrilled if he has a tablet or laptop and access to music.”

Courtesy by YOU

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SA mom’s story on why she wants all disabled kids to share in life’s adventures hen she saw her son, ...
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November 6, 2019