Written by: Johané Snyders
Article source: JOY! Magazine

You never know what is waiting for you just around the corner. If someone told Christel van Zyl of Upington that she would suddenly become paralysed, she would not have believed them. Christel describes herself as someone who loves to be outdoors and who definitely cannot sit still. Little did she know that the events of 11 September 2022 would take her on a journey of unanswered questions.

Funny feeling
“My flatmate and I were not planning to attend the church service, but after a friend’s invitation we decided to go,” Christel says, recalling what happened that night. As a second-year student at the North-West University, she was busy with her degree in biokinetics. A funny feeling came over her during the first worship song, but she thought it might be because the music “touched” her.

Unexplained event
Christel’s path crossed mine at that exact moment. She was standing behind me when she keeled over and ended up on the steps in front of me. “I was convinced that I merely sat down,” says Christel. According to the paramedics, she only regained full consciousness in the hospital, even though her eyes were open the whole time from the fall until she arrived at the emergency centre. It was here when Christel noticed she was completely paralysed and, at that stage, she could only blink her eyes and breathe on her own. The rest of her body had no sensation and was motionless.

Silent prayer at night
Uncertainty and frustration haunted her as she was sent for CT scans – answers were nowhere near in sight. “Please let me at least get my voice back,” Christel prayed throughout that night. Soon after, she regained full control of her speech and neck movement when a sudden warm feeling travelled through her torso and arms. She was, however, still paralysed from the hips down.

All in vain
After two weeks they transferred Christel to a neurologist in Bloemfontein, where a series of tests and further medication still did not yield any answers. Back in Potchefstroom, Christel spent two weeks in rehabilitation to see if exercises would lead to any improvement. It was all in vain. She completed her final exam in a wheelchair.

The adjustment
With the support of her mother, her roommate, and the aid of a walker, Christel continued attending her classes on campus. “The bathroom in our little flat was not big enough for the wheelchair. I had to sit on a towel and drag myself to the toilet or shower.” Going for a quick coffee or an ice cream was something that she could no longer do. “For a carefree girl who liked to dance to just about every second song, my biggest frustration was celebrating my 21st birthday in a wheelchair,” she confesses. Although Christel decided to give up on her student life and complete her studies at home, she continued to have faith that she would soon regain control over her body again.

The movie moment
On the evening of April 6, 2023, Christel experienced a “phantom pain” in her foot, as she had previously. She did not pay it much attention and went to her room for her quiet time. “While I was sitting in my wheelchair, that same warm feeling I previously experienced travelled down my legs – that is when I realised that something was definitely going on.” She fell asleep close to midnight after talking to God about her journey and His plan for her life. On Good Friday, at around two o’clock in the morning, Christel turned over in her bed to check the time on her phone. “I realised I could feel my bedding against my legs. I turned on the light, yanked off my duvet and tried to wiggle my toes – all ten of them waved back at me!”

Miracle on Easter weekend
After seven months, Christel got up that morning and took a step, having full control of the movement. “I just wanted to dance and say thank you and praised God for almost two hours for His miracle.” When the rest of the family finally woke up, Christel could not wait to share the good news with them. They decided to keep the news to themselves for the time being because they wanted to give all the glory to God for the rest of the Easter weekend undisturbed. That day Christel travelled with her family to their holiday destination without a wheelchair! “The Lord has quite a sense of humour … because the day I got up and walked was also the day I had to sit in a car for hours on end,” she chuckles.

‘Lord, use me’
In August 2022 (before she became paralysed), Christel was searching for her game plan, using her church’s “Road map to God’s plan”. “Okay God, use me,” was her prayer back then. It was something she had to cling to for seven difficult months. Today, Christel is preparing herself for Christian ministry after she decided to discontinue her degree in biokinetics. When I asked her how things were going, her reply was, “Fantastic! I am currently training for a 12,5 km marathon. These days I laugh and dance a lot more and I walk this road with complete trust and peace with God by my side.” She acknowledges that at the end of 2022 she would much rather have wanted to “walk” this unknown journey – but today she is grateful for the plan God had for her. She got her answer to “use me as You will and where You need me, Lord” – and now she wholeheartedly lives for God.

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Date published: 29/03/2024
JOHANÉ SNYDERS – freelance journalist. Email johanesnyders9@gmail.com

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