How actress Gaynor Young beat the odds

Gaynor Young experienced a tragic accident that left her disabled at the height of her career. Here’s her story of recovery.

“I was the understudy for the role of Guinevere in Camelot at the State Theatre in Pretoria in 1989,” she recalls. “On the 9th of December, the lead fell ill. I went on stage that afternoon never having had a dress rehearsal nor a technical rehearsal but I was confident I could pull it off. Everything was going according to the script until just before the interval. And then, everything went black.”

On the dark stage, mid-scene, Gaynor lost her footing and fell 18 metres down an unguarded lift shaft.

The long road to recovery

Suffering intense brain damage and multiple fractures, Gaynor lay in a coma for an agonising five weeks after being rushed to hospital that fateful day. Having suffered extensive brain trauma, as well as losing her hearing and 60% of her eyesight, Gaynor remained in hospital a further two months before she was able to return home to begin her recuperation.

“My recovery was a long, anguishing period for me. I was a child again. My time used to be filled with auditions, rehearsals, and performances. Suddenly it was filled with occupational therapy, speech therapy, physiotherapy, and psycho-therapy. I had to learn to how to talk again, walk again, how to swallow. I had to learn to write left handed. I tried to ‘hear’ what people said by holding them gently under the chin to feel the vibrations of their words.”

Gaynor continues, “For twenty-eight years I was a healthy, outgoing person. Then due to my accident, certain things I had taken for granted disappeared. Hearing became a thing of the past. I entered the grey, soundless world of the deaf. I was suddenly thrust into a place that was totally foreign to a woman for whom sound had played such a large, vital role.”

Gaynor was not on a medical aid at the time of her accident and only joined Discovery 18 years later. “Deciding to take out medical insurance was a very big decision. I have many problems and therefore needed a very comprehensive policy which is a considerable monthly expense. But without a doubt it has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. It is Discovery that was responsible for me getting my hearing back.”

In 2007, Gaynor qualified for a cochlear implant on her right ear and six years later, a second cochlear implant procedure was done on her left ear. “With cochlear implants, I was no longer cocooned in a soundless world. I was able to take flight once more.”

For Gaynor, being able to hear again was an almost indescribable experience. The moment my cochlear implant was switched on, I remember staring straight ahead with tears pouring down my cheeks. Sound had been given back to me!”

“Not only am I able to hear all of the music I knew and loved before my accident, I am able to enjoy music that is totally new to me, says Gaynor, “Music has changed quite a bit since the turn of the century,” she adds with a laugh.

“The joy of being alive”

Gaynor, who lives in George with a wire-haired dachshund called Perdita and a cockatiel called Spencer is now a sought-after motivational speaker and blogger – particularly about overcoming personal hardships and the important role of resilience in life. “I speak about my life before the accident and my life thereafter. I speak of what hearing, seeing, touching, smelling, and tasting means to me. I speak of the joy of being alive and I think that is what inspires people.”

“The old Gaynor died on that day in December 1989. And I grieved for her for a long time. But the new Gaynor is living, now, and she derives so much delight from life.”

Gaynor’s advice to anyone recovering from a traumatic accident is not to give up. “The frustration with yourself can become monumental but don’t you dare give in. Yes, one has those days where things seem too much to handle. Have a good cry. Pummel your pillow. Rant and rave, if that helps. But then the next day, begin again with renewed determination.”

In addition to attitude, Gaynor attributes much of her recovery to a strong support system. “I had people that were behind me every step of the way – family, friends, therapists. They understood my frustrations and continually challenged me with my therapy. They helped me laugh when things went wrong and rejoiced with me when things went right.”

Gaynor’s bright future

With her cochlear implants, Gaynor’s quality of life has improved drastically over the years. “I still go for regular physiotherapy for my back and my neck. As a result of the way I now walk, my back often goes into a spasm. I also need to see my audiologist for regular cochlear checkups.”

When she thinks of her accident, and the 18 metres that she fell, Gaynor often marvels at the fact that she is still alive. “I don’t know why such a dreadful thing happened to me. But I do know this ... I’d rather rejoice in what is and what will be than wallow in what could have been. Over the years I have accepted what has happened to me and ... I am a fighter!”

To follow Gaynor’s full recovery and read up about her future plans, visit her blog:



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