Challenge Accepted By Nicole Vergos

On the 9th of July 1985, my mother was booked in for a Cererian. Once she had been examined the doctor discovered the umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck and she was rushed into theatre for an emergency operation. After the birth, I didn’t stop crying and the doctor couldn’t understand why so he began to run a bunch of tests on me and it was only after taking x-rays that he discovered I had fractured my arm as well as both of my legs. The fractures in my legs had already begun to heal which means that these occurred while I was still in the womb.

I was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI). It is a genetic disorder which put simply means my body produces some type 1 collagen but not a sufficient amount, and as result my bones are not as strong as the average person’s. Type 1 collagen is what binds our bone fibres together and without it, bones are weaker and more easily prone to break. I am the first member of my family to be born with OI and the doctor’s prognosis was very pessimistic. I was immediately placed in an incubator and my mother was told that I had two weeks to live. After spending the first couple of weeks of my life in an incubator and mother having never held me, she made the decision to take me home. I’m incredibly grateful for her decision and her love as here I am, 30 odd years later, fighting fit. There is currently no cure for OI. On the plus side, as you reach puberty, your body naturally produces more collagen so although I still need to be cautious in my day to day living, I’m a lot stronger now.

My mom is the strongest person I know. She never made me feel different but at the same time, she never underplayed my condition either – it’s a delicate balance that she got right. She raised me to accept my disability while also recognizing that it didn’t define me.

I didn’t have a typical childhood. Looking at family photos, it’s hard to find one of me where I’m not in either an arm or leg cast. I was particularly fragile in my early years, my mother has told me stories of how I would heal from one broken bone and shortly after break another. The breaks would be caused from the smallest of incidents such as the wind slamming a door shut and me jumping from fight. I don’t know the exact number, but I estimate that I have had close to 100 separate breaks during my life and nearly as many operations. I have never been able to walk and have been wheelchair bound for all my life.

When I first started school, I went to the Hope School but when I was seven years old my family moved to Greece for a few years. In the small town where we stayed, there were no special needs schools and I had no other choice to attend a “normal” school (for lack of the better word). I found the other kids to be rather accepting and more fascinated by the fact that I was foreigner. When we moved back to South Africa, I continued to attend “normal” schools, however for high school I did home correspondence.

Growing up in a household with a single parent was a struggle financially. Straight out of school I found a job to help take some of the pressure off my mom. My first job was working as an admin assistant for a small, family run estate agency. Thereafter, I got a job as an assistant to the Communications department for the construction company that worked on the Gautrain.  I think this was one of the major turning points in my life. Up till this point I was extremely shy and introverted, and working for a Communications department – well, the name says it all, I had to learn to speak up and speak to people quickly. I worked under a wonderful team who taught me a lot and enhanced my skill set. It was also the first time in my life I made friends. During this time, I also learnt to drive and purchased my first car. This new-found independence was truly life changing.

I worked on the Gautrain project for 3 years till my contract ended in early 2011. Thereafter, I was unemployed for a few months and took up temp work as a means to an end. One of the companies I temped at was a Market Research company. I temped there for about 3 weeks and it just so happened that they were looking for a junior executive so I applied for the position and got it. I’ve been in Market Research ever since and I’m now an Account Manager at a leading international agency specialising in consumer research.  

Another major turning point in my life was when I began working on a business idea with a good friend of mine a few years ago. It all started from a personal need – taking belongings off my lap and putting them in a bag that was specifically designed to fit comfortably on a wheelchair, providing greater independence, convenience and mobility. In 2015, we registered Smergos as a Pty Ltd and entered the market with a range of wheelchair bags. This is only the beginning and we are working tirelessly on a number of other exciting projects, to only help people with disabilities in their daily lives but bring about greater awareness and understanding of disability to the world. This journey has taught me and continues to teach me so much. I’ve been pushed far out of my comfort zone and as scary as it may be at times, I look forward to a bright and successful future. My ultimate goal is to be able to work on Smergos fulltime.

I’m motivated by change – I have a short attention span and get bored easily. As a result, I’m always bringing change into my life in one way or another. It may be big changes such as getting a new job or home to less dramatic things such as taking an online course on a topic I’m interested in. I don’t like staying still and I’m always looking for ways to keep moving forward. Our slogan for Smergos is “Inspiring Motion” and this resonates strongly with me