Stellenbosch University
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Life-changing medical condition did not stop SU graduate achieving his dream
Author: Corporate Communication and Marketing/Korporatiewe Kommunikasie en Bemarking [Rozanne Engel]
Published: 17/12/2020


When Stellenbosch University (SU) graduate, Karabo Makhanya was diagnosed with a life-changing medical condition in 2017, he decided that no matter what happened he would carry on and complete his studies.

On Wednesday 16 December 2020, along with over 400 fellow graduates from the Faculty of Science, Makhanya will achieve his dream and graduate virtually with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) Sport Science degree.

“I felt that if I stopped so close to the finish line which was finishing my undergrad, then all the challenges I faced and overcame throughout my time at university would have been for nothing. I’ve learned to not see your challenges as a disadvantage but to see them as one of your greatest advantages,” says Makhanya.

While studying at SU, Makhanya was diagnosed with a congenital disorder called Chiari malformation type 1, which involves a part of his brain called the cerebellar tonsils pushing down into the hole that usually allows the spinal cord to move into the skull. This caused a situation where pressure was increasing in his brain and the fluid that should be flowing around the spinal cord and the brain was not flowing, as it should.

Makhanya says that throughout his teens he always suffered severe headaches that went away after several hours and come back months later. However, in 2017, after numerous doctors’ visits and tests, Makhanya underwent an MRI scan, which revealed the severity of his medical condition.

Due to the complications of Chiari malformation Type 1, which causes syringomyelia, a rare disorder in which a fluid-filled cyst forms within your spinal cord, Makhanya had to undergo one major neurosurgery in 2017 specifically for the Chiari malformation type 1 and another major neurosurgery this year for the syringomyelia.

“With my faith in God, the support I received from my mom, my family (immediate family and my church family), my friends and my lecturers in the sports science department and the rest of the faculty, I can safely say that I am now a BSc Sport Science graduate. Physically and mentally, I am feeling good. I went back for another MRI scan a month or so ago and we found that 99% of all the syrinxes are gone,” says Makhanya.

He also believes that by staying optimistic and surrounding himself with the right people over the years helped him to overcome his health challenges and ultimately achieve his graduation goals.

The Mpumalanga native says he is excited about the future and hopes to one-day work as a strength and conditioning coach at a professional soccer club in South Africa.

“I’ve always loved sports, especially soccer, and I loved learning about the human body. As I went through my degree studies and the challenges that I had to face, I became more and more interested in the human mind and I have become more passionate about working with people. To do something that involves sports, that involves learning about the human body and that involves working with people is definitely a no-brainer for me,” says Makhanya.