by Pamela Maringa

Last weekend Ontlametse Phalatse, one of South Africa’s bravest and youngest heroes was laid to rest at the age of 18. She was one of two South Africans who suffered from progeria, a rare and fatal genetic condition which accelerates the aging process. She was the first black person in the world with this disease.

It was March 2012 when I first heard of Ontlametse Phalatse. She was interviewed on a television show. She was only 13 years old, but living in a body of a 75 year old.  Ontlametse was so bubbly, so happy and full of hope, that it was impossible not to watch the interview. She was well spoken and enthusiastic even though she had been told that she was not going to live to pass the age of 14.

At a very young age, she was a motivational speaker and just before she passed away she had given a talk in President Jacob Zuma’s office. Ontlametse showed a great level of leadership as an ambassador for progeria. Through her leadership she displayed many Christian values. She was  humble, kind, gentle and extremely determined. Through her character she was able to touch so many lives.

When I first heard of her I was going through a very difficult time of my life. I had just been diagnosed with diffuse Scleroderma and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Scleroderma is a disease that affects any part of the body. It often affects the skin, blood vessels, and internal organs, especially the lungs, heart, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract.  I felt like I had been given a death sentence.

That was a turning point in my life. I had been to so many doctors and none of them were able to help me. My life, as I knew it, had stopped and I had to drop out of varsity. I went home and spent my days in bed. Because of the seriousness of my condition, hospitals became my new home.

Ontlametse had a fresh zeal about life. She was positive and happy at a time when most of us would have given up. One of the things she said that stayed with me was, “if you are complaining about life and your situations, just stop and look at me”. Her words challenged me to see the importance of life and to learn to accept the difficulties I am faced with.

I began to draw strength from her and became courageous. The following year I registered for  course and went back to studying again. I began to see that I could achieve my dreams. Even when I was admitted to hospital, I would take my books with me and study…

This young girl’s life gives us a great sense of hope, that in all situations we should learn to give thanks. Ontlametse was sick. Her body was failing, but she used her mouth to touch people’s lives.

The truth is we don’t have to sit around waiting for something to happen. We have to go out there and share the difficulties of our lives, and in doing so, we begin to heal. We begin to accept ourselves and we begin to find peace. Life will present us with different situations and challenges, Ontlametse has taught us  is to live beyond them and stay motivated.