The Cell C Sharks have demonstrated our community spirit to assist a young rugby player, Lifa Hlongwa, who sustained a serious injury in a club rugby match in late June.

23 year old Lifa Hlongwa suffered a potentially life-altering injury while playing flank for the Northwood Crusaders 2nd XV against Amanzimtoti in June when he was knocked over in the process of making a tackle and afterwards found himself numb from his shoulders to his toes and unable to move.

He was rushed to hospital, where it was determined that he had spinal cord damage, which not only drastically reduced his chances of playing again, but more importantly could impact on his ability to walk again in the future.

His future looked bleak and he has a challenging road ahead of him, which required intensive specialised inpatient rehabilitation to improve his functional independence.

In response to this, an urgent meeting was set up with Gary Teichmann, Siseko Jafta and Dr Glen Hagermann from The Sharks, as well as John Smit and Gail Baerecke from the Chris Burger Petro Jackson Players’ Fund. The aim was to plan the best way forward for Lifa, by assisting him and his family to come to terms with the journey ahead.

Dr Glen Hagemann was instrumental in facilitating the partnership with Life Health Care. Life Entabeni Hospital has a world-class Rehabilitation Centre and they have pledged to provide up to 12 weeks of private rehabilitation for Lifa, free of charge.

Lifa is not covered by medical aid, so the generous sponsorship, worth in the region of R300 000, will be of enormous assistance in providing him with the best possible chance of becoming functionally independent before returning home to his family.

The Players Fund, in consultation with The Sharks, have committed to providing Lifa with all his mobility needs following his rehab, and the KZNRU Cunningham Kemp Trust Fund will assist with additional ongoing support. This Fund was established in 2001 following catastrophic neck injuries to these two players from money raised by their families.

The Sharks CEO Gary Teichmann admitted that, “No injury is ever welcomed, particularly when it is a catastrophic neck injury, but the commitment from all parties involved shows just how important the livelihood of our players is, and how seriously we take the health and welfare of our players.”

“Lifa has such a passion for club rugby and it is unfortunate that he got injured whilst playing the game he loves. Despite this setback he has showed great character and strength. I would like to extend our thanks and appreciation to the Crusaders Rugby Club and the entire club fraternity in KZN for rallying around Lifa and his family during this testing time, added the KZNRU General Manager, Siseko Jafta.

Gail Baerecke from the Player’s Fund, who also holds the position of serious injury case manager (SICM) for SA Rugby’s BokSmart – national rugby safety programme had this to say: “This unfortunate incident and the player involved have the right ingredients to make it a success story. Together as a team, I am confident we can achieve this.”

The overwhelming support from the Northwood Crusaders is another example of family spirit evident within our sport. Within days of the accident, the club activated a fundraising campaign and streams of messages have filled the Northwood Crusaders social media pages.

All three parties are committed to assisting Lifa and his family during this difficult time and we at The Sharks wish him the very best with his rehabilitation at Life Entabeni Hospital.