BENJAMIN SAUL ROSMAN
by his mother, Minessa Rosman
Benji was born on 27 December 1985 at the Marifont Nursing Home in Pretoria at 38 weeks after my blood pressure spiked. There was a knot in the umbilical cord, but it was not tightly knotted. He weighed 3,3kgs and looked a healthy beautiful baby, but his apgar score was low, he was floppy and was not at all interested in suckling. After some 12 hours, when he was refusing to drink from me or even take any water, a drip was inserted into his head. He remained on the drip for several days then became severely jaundiced and had to be placed under ultra-violet lights.
Ten days old, he was discharged from the nursing home. He was incredibly sleepy and for the next four or five days was very difficult to feed as he kept falling asleep.
At about 4Â½ months we took Benji to renowned neurologist, Dr GÃ¼ldenpfennig (Penny), who pronounced his diagnosis. Benji was cerebral palsied which was affecting his right arm and leg. The full extent of Benji’s problems would only become apparent when he started to speak and started doing subjects such as mathematics.
Penny recommended that I take Benji to the New Hope School for Cerebral Palsied children (in Pretoria) for weekly sessions of physio and occupational and speech therapy and Kevin and I worked with Benji every day at home.
In 1987 we moved to Johannesburg and sent Benji to Forest Town School for Physically and Mentally Handicapped Children for weekly therapy.
Benji could not roll over from his stomach onto his back until he was about eight months old and then he could only roll over his right side – never his left. He started sitting very late too – at about seven months and kept toppling over. We sat him in a big plastic tub with pillows behind so he could reach his toys and not be frustrated.
He became intensely frustrated if he couldn’t reach things, and I agonized over whether I should put his toys within his reach or leave him, let him get frustrated and hopefully make him try harder to reach them.
When most children start crawling at about seven or eight months Benji could only pivot himself to the right in a circle. He would go round and round in circles and could not move forward. At 19 months he finally managed to crawl. He was virtually unable to pass an object from his left to his right hand and there was tremendous spasticity in his right arm and hand and leg.
One of Benji’s milestones was early – he started forming intelligible words at 11 months and by 13/14 months he was able to put two or three words together.
He started to try and walk at about 14 months and walked for the first time on his own at 23 months. It was immediately evident that he was walking on his toes. An orthopaedic surgeon recommended doing a tendo-achilles lengthening (cutting the Achilles tendon) an operation that would have to be repeated several times as Benji grew. It would weaken Benji’s leg and he
would be in plaster and unable to walk for up to four months.
We opted for fitting him with a plastic leg splint, which fi tted into his shoe and came to just under his knee. The splint went from a rigid to a hinged splint and he had to have a new splint made every year as he grew. (He did have a tendo-achilles lengthening operation when he was 16 years old and unlikely to grow enough to warrant the need for a second operation).
A plastic surgeon operated on Benji when he was 3Â½ to release the thumb and wrist. Benji’s hand was in the classic cerebral palsied position: the middle finger drooping against the thumb, which was tucked under the fingers, and his wrist dropped down. He wore a splint for 18 months after the operation to support the wrist and keep the thumb separated from the fingers.
It was recommended that Benji enroll as a full-time student at Forest Town School where he would benefit from daily therapy. Kevin and I felt that Benji belonged in an ordinary preschool (if they would have him).
The headmistress at the Montessori Nursery School in Inanda felt that their form of education was adaptable enough to cope with handicapped children (there were two Downs children already at the school) and she was right. Benji thrived.
No longer enrolled at Forest Town School we had to take him to private physio and occupational therapy. He also started swimming lessons.
Before placing Benji in Primary School Kevin explained his problems to him so that he could answer questions like why he wore a splint on his leg and why he couldn’t catch a ball.
In 1996 when Benji was in grade 5 we decided to move him and his younger brother, Adam, to Crawford Preparatory in Benmore, Sandton. He matriculated in 2003 with 8 distinctions.
There were, and still are, things that Benji has trouble doing. Zips and buttons were a no-no until he was about 9 years old!
Benji would not be put off trying anything. When he was 8 years old, he insisted on swimming in the class gala. With his right arm severely bent he struggled to swim straight. When all the other children were out the pool Benji was not even half way across. The next race was delayed as he finished, puffing and panting. I sat on the grandstand with tears streaming down
my face and hugged him when he told me that he had come last. “But you swam and that’s all that matters,” I told him.
Adam wanted to learn piano. Benji, then seven, decided he would too. He did all his scales, arpeggios etc with his left hand, achieved Grade 2 theory and learnt basic conducting. In Grade 9 he learnt to play the guitar. He sometimes moans that he does
not have the dexterity that his guitar playing friends have, but he is quite prepared to play the guitar in public.
Adam took up judo, Benji did too. I consulted the sensei and the two of them went as far as getting their brown belts in Judo, although Benji did encounter some problems in one-to-one combat, as he was, and still is very easily over-balanced.
He enjoys reading, playing guitar, listening to classical, metal and rock music, art, (he studied art for matric), going to movies and going to gym. He was the youngest judge in South Africa for “Magic, the Gathering” – a strategic card game played by adults and children in regular tournaments and for five years he managed and ran a weekly “Magic” tournament.
Benji is now at Wits where, in 2006, he was awarded a BSc Degree (With Distinction) majoring in Computer Science, Computational and Applied Mathematics, and also studied Physics and Mathematics for two years. At his graduation ceremony he was announced as the joint winner of the William Cullen Award for The Most Distinguished Bachelor of Science Graduand in the Faculty of Science.
He enrolled for Double Honours Degree in Computer Science and Computational and Applied Mathematics at Wits at the beginning of 2007 and completed his BSc Honours degree in Computer Science in December 2007, with Distinction, and should fi nish his Computational and Applied Maths Honours Degree in June 2008.
He has won four Liberty Life Computer Science Medals: Gold in 2006 and 2007, Silver in 2005 and Bronze in 2004.
Benji intends doing his Masters Degree in Computer Science in England and hopes to study for a PhD in the United States, specializing in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.
Benji has never felt sorry for himself. On the contrary, he once told me that he thinks one of the most motivating factors for him has been his determination to succeed BECAUSE of his disabilities.