The IRB (now World Rugby) published a report after the 2012 Junior World Cup. They estimated that there are 650,000+ rugby players in South Africa. Less than 0.07% of these players are those who earn a living from the sport. The absolute vast majority of these are schoolboys, no less than 520,000 of them! Of these, only about 20 000 or so represent their high school at 1XV or 2XV level in any given year, but most aspire to it. So, its probably safe to assume that three-quarters of all rugby players in South Africa, half a million of them, are schoolboys. Schoolboys who are still growing and developing through the age groups. At ruggas.co.za every child matters; whether he pulls the prestigious 1XV jersey over his head, or whether he plays for the U14G team. This is the story of one of them.
The Facebook page Koben Hofmeyer Fonds tells the story of heartbreak, courage and the youthful determination of a young man in the midst of tragedy, resolute to dream about not merely becoming a statistic, but of a great future.
The heart-warming thread shows the recovery journey of the young 16-year-old rugby player from Limpopo in South Africa who tragically broke his neck on the rugby field during a Saturday morning schoolboy rugby match for his school, Hoërskool Louis Trichardt, on 19 May 2018. The journey of the Hofmeyer family is far from over as he slowly progresses through agonising rehabilitation.
During a recent business breakfast organised by INDWERisk Services in association with ruggas.co.za at the Waterkloof Golf Estate in Pretoria, I had the privilege to hear Koben’s story first hand and to invest a bit of time talking with him privately.
Recovering from a traumatic injury myself, I could (sort of) empathise with Koben in a way few can, although you could only truly understand what it is like to break your neck if it actually happens to you personally. The physical trauma on the entire body of this young boy is mind-boggling. Then there are those dark places the soul visits after a tremendous physical trauma that can only truly be understood by those who have been there. At times it becomes a mental thing, just to get through the day, even more so than a physical thing. Yet, through it all, it was the light banter and excited chat about matters far less dark that highlighted our conversation. We spoke about how video gaming has helped to sooth the soul whilst biding time for medical science and the body’s healing process to work together to heal a broken body. When life unexpectantly presses the pause button on you, it can be very, very tough at times, just to see your way around the next painful bend. His youthful spirit projected his innocence, and hope for a better tomorrow.
His father, Trompie Hofmeyer, meticulously recounted a detailed insider view of the agonising event the Hofmeyer family had to go through. What stood out for me were those first six critical hours, known as the ‘Golden Hours’ to get emergency medical treatment for a spinal injury; when the proverbial net just had more holes than they could contend with. One seldom realises the full extent of the complications and critical decisions such a life-changing event forces upon you in such a short period of time. What Mr Hofmeyer had to deal with on that fateful Saturday, deep into the night, was every dad’s worst nightmare.
People have a small understanding whatsoever, of the problems created by such a massive injury. The general sporting-parent out these has no idea how to deal with a spinal injury, or trauma to the eye, or severe concussion, or broken bones or damaged organs…the list can go on. Don’t make the mistake of thinking such an injury is limited to a contact sport either.
Many people fortunate enough to be on a medical aid think they are in good hands. What they do not realise is that a huge amount of money can be at stake in a very short period of time and decision-making processes eat into the ‘Golden Hour’, closing the window of opportunity very fast on the helpless patient. If state hospitalisation is the only option, the problems facing the patient are compounded exponentially.
The time of the injury and the geographical location plays a huge role. Many school-related sporting contests occur after hours, many of them in rural areas. The decision requiring possible airlifting of a patient could add hours to the incident management due to red-tape surrounding medical aid related procedures. Finding the correct medical specialist/s to deal with a situation, especially after hours, then matching the medical specialist to a hospital that is able to and prepared to tend to the trauma patient at that particular time is a rubic-cube-conundrum in itself, where the distraught parent may end up running around in circles whilst minutes ticking by are chipping away at the patients’ chances of recovery.
Social media platforms are strange, unnatural, wonderful tools, but it has its shortcomings.
The FB thread of ‘Koben Hofmeyer Fonds’demonstrates progress. Images and video clips can be seen of a smiling kid reaching certain milestones. What the page does not show is the heartbreak and effort, the disappointments and complications of the day-to-day struggles Koben’s young body and his loving family have to go through. What it does not show is the impact the injury had and continues to have on the people closest to him, his young siblings and his parents.
Their lives have been upended by a force similar to that of a strong tree which was uprooted by a hurricane and smashed into the earth, right in the middle of their lives. Koben can be as optimistic and resolute as he wants, but the reality is he has suffered tremendous damage internally and it will take a long time and a mountain of money to get him to function normally again. He has been brave and blessed enough to reach the foothills, but the summit of this recovery-mountain is a long way off, not yet even visible because the mountain is so high that the clouds are (mercifully) obstructing its view. The realisation etched on a worried father’s face.
Please find it in your heart to show support and visit the page. Be inspired by this young rugby miracle boy, but please show you care by praying for his full recovery and make a financial contribution if you can; every rand is important to help Koben.
Ruggas.co.za will remain in touch with Koben and his family and are committed to helping him on his way in any way we can. We have also identified the need to address some of these post-injury problems and are working feverously to find some solutions that could help sporting-parents when disaster strikes because you can never say ‘it won’t happen to us.’