What a champion. Not only did Juan Louis surpass all recovery expectations, he also completed his chartered accounting degree at the NWU. He wrote every exam without the aid of a scribe.

The road to recovery was an uphill one, but Juan Louis was steadfast in his commitment to regain what he had lost.



Juan Louis’s single-minded determination proved to be the tonic that his body needed, his faith an elixir for his soul.

‘When they offered me a wheelchair, I refused to take it’

Until that single, life-changing moment, there was nothing unusual about Saturday, 14 October 2017.

By midday the mercury had risen to a hot but not unbearable 29 degrees although 83% humidity meant a fair amount of discomfort. There was a lot on the mind of the slim, dark-haired young man who, in two days’ time, would be writing his chartered accountancy exams at the North-West University.


He was at a family member’s house and the pool there was too inviting for Juan Louis van der Vyver to resist. He dived in. The next time he opened his eyes, two days of his life were lost to memory and from his shoulders down, he was unable to move a muscle.


He had broken the C4 and C5 vertebrae in his neck and his C3 vertebra had been dislodged.


Waking up in ICU


“I can’t remember what happened after I dived into the pool. I broke my neck either against the bottom or the side of the pool and the next thing I remember it was Monday and I woke up in ICU,” Juan Louis recalls from his home in Table View. It is here in the shadow of the Mother City’s most famous landmark that he can reflect on four years of perseverance and faith.


“After two weeks in ICU I was transferred to a rehabilitation centre in Pretoria.”The doctor’s initial diagnosis was that I will only ever be able to use my thumbs and index fingers again.”


For the energetic sportsman who had participated in rugby, swimming, athletics and tennis at Worcester Gymnasium, played hostel rugby for Excelsior at the NWU and also swum for the university, this was unacceptable.


No wheelchair, thanks


When he finally left the rehabilitation centre for the last time after five arduous months, the personnel offered him a wheelchair. He declined.


His hands were calloused from sessions strapped to a harness on a treadmill, from hours using a walking frame and endless steps on crutches. He had lain helplessly on a bed while his legs were moved for him. Eating utensils had been inserted into a glove that was used to help him learn how to eat again.


“It is doing the everyday basics like brushing your teeth or getting dressed that you miss the most. So, when they offered me a wheelchair, I refused to take it. They warned me that I would get tired and that I would need one, that I wouldn’t be able to use my crutches all the time, but I reasoned that the more I used them the stronger and fitter I would get,” he says resolutely.


Beating the odds


“Its only thanks to God’s grace that I was able to recover to the extent that I did. Now I am able to walk in and around the house without crutches. I can even walk in some shops and in church without them, but I have walking sticks for difficult or unfamiliar terrain.”


He also completed his chartered accounting (CA) studies at the NWU in June the year after his accident. His parents contacted the university to find out how he could complete his qualification and a scribe was assigned to assist. The scribe’s services weren’t needed. Juan Louis wrote all his exams by hand and has since become a valuable part of the PricewaterhouseCoopers team.


He beat the odds and he believes others can too. He wants his story to inspire, to provide hope for those who feel that hope is gone. In this endeavour he has succeeded and he will continue to move forward. One step at a time.




The NWU & U


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Juan Louis spent two weeks in ICU after his horrific diving accident.

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