Lee 14-year-old Wheelchair
Photo Credit: Marcus Aurelius from Pexels

A 14-year-old who spends a lot of his time in a wheelchair has just written the most profound piece on what it means to be human!


Johannesburg, South Africa (11 April 2021) – Daan Reitsma, a 14-year old who lives in Johannesburg, was tasked to write about life, being a human and what that means by his teacher.

What makes his writing piece so powerful is that the young scholar suffers from Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) – an autoimmune disease that typically causes joint pain and inflammation in the hands, knees, ankles, elbows and/or wrists. But, it may affect other body parts too.

“He has a very rare type, Palindromic Juvenile Arthritis, where his pain and pain-free days are like a cycle. In the last 3 years, Daan started having pain in his knees every now and then. It could be left, it could be right, it could be after sports or just any time he would wake up with pain in one of his knees. This intensified, and about a year ago, he would wake up at any given moment with pain in both knees so much that he can not put any weight on it. During these days, he is bound to a wheelchair,” Nathalie Okker, Daan’s mom, explained.

So when we received Daan’s speech and story, we knew we had to share it with our readers; it is both powerful and inspiring.

Read it below:

Now, what is the definition of life? Well, according to the Oxford Dictionary it is, the existence of an individual human being, animal, or plant. I’m going to focus on the human being part of that phrase.

Now, what is the definition of a human being? A man, woman, or child of the species Homo sapiens, distinguished from other animals by superior mental development, power of articulate speech, and upright stance.

Not everybody can stand upright or has the power of articulate speech, or has a good mental development. This is because they were just unlucky with something happening to their “human beingness”. This can happen to every single person in the world; we humans need to learn to adapt to what has happened in our past and to use it to move forward. Even if you can’t have that upright stance and are sitting in a wheelchair, keep doing what you would usually do; there is always a way around it.

I have experienced some of that as well, but luckily not as bad as most people.

I am quite often in a wheelchair, which really does affect your life in many ways you probably wouldn’t think. For example, just going up one tiny little step is a lot of effort for me, or even just moving from a-to-b is really hard work. I am very lucky that my “human beingness” is not taken away from me all the time. I’m just grateful because it could be much worse.

Life can be taken away from you in a flash; one moment you’re having the time of your life, and the next thing you know you’re almost dead. You can be on the most beautiful and scenic drive of your life looking out the window of the car, and that what you are seeing is almost like a Vincent van Gogh artwork. The sun is setting behind the mountains, and you can see the crop fields in the distance. But then next thing you know, your brakes in your car stop working, and there you are driving at 120 km per hour, you just manage to get around the first turn, but then another car comes, and you have to dodge him. So when you do, you drive straight into a guardrail piercing the car into two. BOOM, you crashed against something, and the next thing you know, you’re in the hospital and realising your legs are paralyzed, and life will never be the same again. Your upright stance has been taken away from you forever.

There are many examples of these tragic events happening, but it is not necessarily that these events happen because of physical injuries. Some people are just born with no human beingness, it could be that they are born without being able to speak, or maybe they are born with down syndrome and therefore can’t think well. Whatever it might be, they need to find a way around it; for example, because people can’t speak, they figured out a way to still communicate through sign language. People who can’t walk have wheelchairs so that they still can enjoy the outside world. And technology is developing so fast that even people who are missing an arm can get a fully functioning robotic arm.

Now I want you to think about the definition of a human being which I told you about.

Is it correct to say that you need to have an upright stance in order to have the privilege to be called a human being?

I want you to remember that we human beings have no limits, and we have proven that many times before, stand up and reach for your goals, even if you don’t have that upright stance.

Daan is being treated by an amazing pediatric rheumatologist, he does Biokinetics weekly, and he sees an amazing young cognitive-behavioural coach* who helps him to deal with all this and try to keep seeing the bright side of life! (*teaching him the power of rationality and gaining control of thoughts, feelings and emotions).

For more information about Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, click here.

Sources: Daan Reitsma
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About the Author

Brent Lindeque is the founder and editor in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

1 comment

  1. What an amazing story! And young man! I can not even imagine what it must be like BUT Daan has the right attitude and a good attitude is so important. I am also a ‘humanist’ and as such care about humans as well as all living things and he planet.
    I am reminded of story and life of Steven Hawking. Also a great mind in a crippled body. What a great man.
    My wife and I follow the Low Carb life style. I am not sure to what extent this can benefit auto-immune conditions but it’s worth investigating!
    Stay strong, young man!

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