Like many working mothers Lesa Bradshaw has a busy schedule between running her business, looking after her daughter Savannah Storm, and spending quality time with her husband, Richard.
This 34-year-old mother, wife and business woman is achieving all this from her wheelchair even more with a condition known as spinal muscular atrophy which she was born with. Lesa explains what muscular atrophy is, “I have full feeling and movement, but my voluntary muscle is very weak and as a result I utilise an electric wheelchair full time.”
While others may regard what Lesa does on a daily basis as exceptional, she has other thoughts. “My condition has never been a big deal to me or the people around me. I recall my friends adapting to me.”
This is not surprising as Lesa is naturally an outgoing person who makes friends easily. It was a surprise to her when she moved to the Eastern Cape to attend university and for the first time in her life she experienced negative reaction. “I experienced attitude barriers towards my condition. People were taken aback and did not respond to my friendliness at all.”
Added to the hostility was the fact that the university was not as accessible as she had hoped and the colder climate of the Eastern Cape also did not agree with her. “So I left and returned to Durban.” She laughs, adding, “It is much warmer here in so many ways.”
Her university experience did not deter her from achieving her goal. “I started a business with my present partner doing assessments and training. It was a real leap of faith that involved cold calling companies from day one.
“I also really knew nothing about Human Resources, only about assessments. I did eventually do a diploma in human resources management, and after this the business went from strength to strength.”
Over the years, Lesa’s recruitment business has grown in leaps and bounds. “While my condition has not worked against me in business, it has often surprised people. On a number of occasions, I’ve had meetings with people who have said to me, ‘You didn’t sound disabled on the phone!’ And that is despite me asking if their boardroom is wheelchair accessible.
“A big component of my recruitment business is placing people with disabilities. I try very hard to place people in positions not traditionally associated with disabilities, e.g. call centres. I want to get the market out there to realise that people with disabilities don’t just work in call centres, that they are able to be part of a company or business in other ways.”
Apart from being successful in business, Lesa has a fulfilling personal life. She has been married for eight years to Richard Bradshaw and they have a little girl – the light of their lives - Savannah Storm Bond.
“Richard and I have been together for 12 years,” says Lesa. “I met him while perched on a bar stool. He asked me to dance. I said no, but he could buy me a drink. I then explained that I was actually in a wheelchair.”
When they made the decision to start a family Lesa says she was very hesitant. “My condition is caused by a recessive gene, so I was worried that it could affect the baby. And, to be very honest, I was worried about how a pregnancy would affect me, and how I would deal with motherhood.”
However, Lesa had the necessary tests done which determined that the gene would not affect her baby, and she was given the thumbs-up.
“I also did a lot of research to find out how being pregnant would affect me. According to the research I did, my body would become weaker and I could have breathing problems towards the end of the pregnancy. And this is exactly what happened. I was fine until about 20 weeks, and then the breathing problems started. However, I could feel it coming on and would then pass out. I would just work through it. At 30 weeks I had steroid injections to increase my lung capacity.”
Lesa had her baby girl at 34 weeks through a caesarean section and suddenly everything changed. “Before I had Savannah I was worried about how I would care for her. But Richard and I have a great system and we made some adjustments to suit me. For example, the cot has doors that open instead of sliding down and it is level with my arms. A big perk is that Richard does all the nappy changes!”
Another concern for Lesa was whether she would be able to bond with her daughter once she was born. “I overcame this concern by placing her in a pouch on my stomach. This allowed me to be close to her while moving around in my wheelchair.”
Today Lesa says Savannah is very intuitive and independent. “She knows she must come to me and that I cannot go to her. She is also very sensible as she knows if something happens I cannot save her. As a result she is also very independent for her age.” But that’s not all. “I would say that having a baby was the best thing that I ever did.”