At some stage in our lives, we have all been inspired by fellow human beings who, despite the odds, have overcome adversity and made a difference to the world. For me, one such person was Tania Douglas who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 and, over the next 17 years before her untimely death in March 2021, made significant contributions in the field of biomedical engineering. Today I would like to share with you the stories of two people who have triumphed over their physical disability that required the use of crutches.
For the past 15 months some of us that first came together 40 years ago at the University of Cape Town have been active participants in a WhatsApp group, exchanging stories and reminiscing. A week ago, our old head of biomedical engineering, Professor GG Jaros, posted a marvellous photograph taken on his wedding day in 1978, and asked if anyone recognised the gentleman on the left. I said I believed it was Jaros’ friend and mentor, Arthur Guyton (seen below left).
Many of you will know Arthur Guyton as the author of the hugely influential Textbook of Medical Physiology that was translated into 15 languages and sold millions of copies. Less well known is that in 1946, during his final year of training as a cardiovascular surgeon, he contracted polio which left him partially paralysed and dependent on crutches for the rest of his life. Despite his disability, Guyton became one of the greatest figures in cardiovascular physiology, publishing over 600 academic papers. He was father to 10 children – who all became successful physicians – and his obituary stated, “He had a special ability to inspire people through his indomitable spirit.”
Two days ago, Jaros drew the WhatsApp group’s attention to a remarkable young South African, Musa Motha. At the age of 10, as an aspirant footballer growing up in Sebokeng, south of Johannesburg, he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma which led to the amputation of his left leg above the knee. Despite his disability, Motha dedicated himself to dance and now, aged 27, he’s a professional dancer (seen below right).
Currently living in London, Motha’s performance this past weekend in Britain’s Got Talent brought the judges and audience to tears. Click here to watch an astonishing video. He explained to the judges that after his amputation he fell in love with music and asked his friends to teach him how to dance. Motha added, “I used my left crutch as my left leg, and that’s how it started.” Tania Douglas, Arthur Guyton and Musa Motha are an inspiration to us all.