“Helen is absolutely beautiful and turns heads wherever we go. She is also sharp, clever and an inspiration to everyone around her,” says Peter Moolman. He is talking about his wife, Helen.
Peter is a T12-L1 incomplete paraplegic, following an accident six years ago. Five years ago he married Helen, a C6-7 quadriplegic, following a car accident in 1989. “It was our fifth anniversary on 10 November,” says Helen. “We were introduced by a mutual friend. We met for coffee and six weeks later we were married.”
The couple live in Johannesburg in a house designed by Peter so that it is completely accessible and comfortable for them. Helen’s 16 year-old son lives with them. “I conceived six months after the accident while I was living with my boyfriend at the time. I believe that my pregnancy helped me get through the early stages of rehabilitation.”
Peter also has children – twin boys who are now 22 and finishing off their studies. He has always been an optimist, and this has not changed. “I was very optimistic after my accident. I went back to work, but I didn’t realise that I had cut myself the week before while transferring from a shower chair. To compound the problem, I was sitting all day at work on the wrong cushion, and this eventually led to a pressure sore that saw me off work for almost five months.”
It took him a year to recover, but the experience made him wiser. “I learnt to adapt to new conditions. I use the right cushion and now make my own transfer boards.” After his accident, Peter decided to live at the Ann Cheshire Home. “I went off the rails a bit after my accident, and was divorced shortly afterwards. While there I raised funds for the home.”
Eventually, he wanted his own house, and oddly enough, bought one across the road from Ann Cheshire. Helen has a B. Comm Cum Laude from UNISA that she completed in a wheelchair, and now works for a well-known accounting firm. Before, she was a call-centre manager working long hours (for a quad!), up at seven a.m. and home after six.
“Peter is wonderful, though. He would cook and spoil me when I got home. He would rub my back. He is still like that and helps me so much. He even paints my toenails for me.”
“Helen and I understand each other,” says Peter. “we have the same problems, and suffer the same symptoms. I still take pain killers to sleep. We get through it, we are both optimistic and look for the same good in each day; we must be positive at all times.”
The couple stay busy doing activities together. They did decoupage and beading courses, joined a Pretoria gem club and learned silver smithing. “We both love shopping.” says Peter.
Peter’s biggest love, after Helen, is the Sharks rugby team. He belongs to the Supporters Club and is a regular at the Northcliff Country Club when they play. Peter often watches rugby in Pretoria and cricket at the Wanderers. Helen recalls how she and Peter drove to Brakpan in the middle of winter to watch the Sharks play. “We were almost on the field and everyone was calling us saying they could see us on television.”
But the couple are no strangers to celebrity. They have been profiled in Woman’s Value magazine and Die Beeld newspaper, and were on television when they got married in Cyprus.
Helen’s mother was travelling to Cyprus and she was thinking of joining her mom there. Peter was scared she would go, so he asked her to marry him. She said yes. They decided to get married in Cyprus and see mom at the same time. They had their honeymoon in Egypt.
From the minute they arrived in Cyprus, they made an impact. They appeared on a popular TV talk show and the host suggested that the Archbishop of Cyprus marry them. The Archbishop married them a few days later and when they left the church there were two television crews waiting outside. They were on national news! On the way home flying Emirates via Dubai, the airline heard about their Cypress adventure on TV and promptly upgraded them to business class!
Despite all the attention, they don’t see themselves as different to other couples. “We confide in each other, laugh together, share things, and we argue just like everyone else,” says Helen. “We just happen to be in wheelchairs; we just have to plan a little more.”
“Perhaps we get on because we are both mad – we have been white-water rafting and abseiling. Who knows what’s nextâ€¦ we are both very impulsive.”