Despite losing his right arm, Reinard Schuhknecht emerged as one of the brightest stars in South African disabled golf.
It hit Reinard Schuhknecht like a bolt of lightning. A searing pain flooded his body and he fell to his knees before blacking out. When the 14-year-old woke several hours later, he was in a hospital. Doctors had literally brought him back from the dead.
Growing up, Reinard of Vanderbijlpark, Gauteng, was the definition of a ‘sporting all-rounder’. In school, he was an avid cyclist, was part of the long and high jump team, played rugby and was even a budding shot putt player. Reinard lost his arm in a freak electrical accident. He had gone to spend the afternoon at a friend’s plot just a few kilometres from his home. It was a sweltering day and the two were jumping off the tin roof of the house into the swimming pool.
“There were high power lines running next to the roof, but I never saw them,” says Reinard. “I was wet and got too close to one of the lines, coming into the magnetic field of the power. I was hit with 11 000 volts. One minute I was standing on the roof, the next I was in hospital. I don’t remember anything of what happened in between.” The current entered through Reinard’s right hand, leaving three large gaping holes on his arm and back. It circulated through his body, damaging soft tissue and muscle, and exited through his feet. The force of the current rendered Reinard unconscious. Blood was streaming from his mouth and nose. The skin on both his feet had literally ‘burst’ open and they ballooned to several times their normal size, while his right arm suffered severe burns. Reinard’s friend’s father rushed to help him and called the paramedics before notifying Reinard’s parents.
“He phoned my husband and said there had been a terrible accident,” says Reinard’s mom, Louise. “He said he had found Reinard on the roof and that one of the farm workers had tried to revive him but he wasn’t breathing. A helicopter had been sent to the house and Reinard had been flown to Garden City Clinic. En route, the doctor attending to Reinard said that patients suffering such an enormous electrocution usually suffer permanent brain damage as a result of heart failure and should Reinard survive, he would probably have extreme brain damage.” Reinard’s parents rushed to the hospital, which was more than an hour’s drive away. When they arrived they expected the worst, but doctors said tests conducted had revealed Reinard’s brain activity was miraculously normal, despite having been starved of oxygen for a prolonged period of time. His hand, however, was black and there was no blood circulation.
“The following day the doctor explained to my parents that my hand would never function again – the tissue and muscles had suffered extensive damage and all that was left was skin and bone,” says Reinard. “A decision was taken to amputate my hand, but my arm continued to swell. Every evening, I was going into theatre to have more dead tissue removed. At that stage, doctors had inserted a shunt directly into my heart, administering morphine and pethidine because the pain had become unbearable.”
Two weeks later, Reinard’s arm was still swelling. He had lost so much blood due to the removal of dead tissue and doctors feared his arm would go gangerous. They took more X-rays and discovered that the inside of his elbow was completely shattered and that the bone had started disintegrating. They had no choice but to do a full amputation of Reinard’s arm.
After almost a month in the ICU and a further two weeks in High Care, Reinard was discharged and sent to the Auckland Park Rehabilitation Centre where he stayed for a month of intensive therapy. “Before the accident I was right-handed, and so I had to learn how to write with my left hand, which was really tricky. In the beginning, doing simple things like tying my shoelaces or buttering a piece of toast were close to impossible. It took me a while to get used to the fact that I only had one arm. My biggest worry was that I wouldn’t be able to play sport anymore. Just two days after leaving the rehab centre, I went to the driving range and tried hitting a few golf balls. Golf had never really interested me before but I felt confident holding the club. I started playing regularly and joined the school golf team, competing in the Super 16. In Grade 11, I got my Vaal Triangle Colours.”
Reinard has played in several prestigious tournaments since, sighting his hardest as last year’s Nedbank SA Disabled Open. “I came third in last year’s Open so this year I set my sights on winning it. Although I gave it my all, I battled to keep up on the green. In the end, I came second, but was still happy with the placing. I am looking to go overseas in August to play in the Swedish Open, which sees the best disabled golfers around the world compete, so that’ll be quite exciting.”
Currently, the six handicap is studying his PGA Diploma at Dale Hayes Golf Academy. In between studying and playing golf, he still enjoys doing the things he used to do before the accident. He cycles, rides motorboats, wake boards and even quad bikes, proving that with determination, nothing is impossible.
Reinard Schuhknecht , golf, disabled, Nedbank, electrical