Double-amputee Rex Natoealofa is known among his family and close friends for being fiercely independent.
Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
But the 29-year-old, who lost his legs to meningitis as a teenager, is having to rely on others to get him to his two jobs and tertiary course after his car was stolen and crashed on the morning late last month at the busy intersection of Massey Rd and Bucklands Rd in Māngere, South Auckland.
It had earlier been spotted driving dangerously on the motorway and had clipped another vehicle and smashed into traffic lights before hitting another car at the intersection.
No injuries were reported and police arrested a person at the scene.
“When my car went missing, I was furious - who wouldn’t be? It was because I had so many good memories in it and I had worked so hard for it.
“When I saw the Facebook posts about the car crash that happened just down the road from where I live - at the time, I did not know how to feel.
“I guess I am still processing things - it isn’t easy living with prosthetics.”
Natoealofa works in the public sector during the day and as a youth worker at night, ensuring that young people stay out of trouble.
He is also studying towards a Bachelor of Social Work at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.
“For me, it’s a service to the community, where I want to do good and give back. If I can help the youth stay out of trouble, then that’s a win.”
Natoealofa grew up healthy and very content with life, he said.
At 15 years old, he travelled to the family motherland, Samoa, where he lived there for a year.
When he returned to New Zealand, however, things took a turn for the worse when he was struck with a severe illness later identified as meningococcal disease.
“I felt really sick. I went in to see the doctor and was admitted straight away to the hospital.
“It wasn’t until the doctors ran tests that I found out I had meningococcal disease, which led me to have my legs amputated.”
Meningococcal disease is any sickness that is caused by neisseria meningitidis bacteria.
They include infections of the bloodstream and the lining of the brain and spinal cord.
‘I forgive...we all deserve second chances’
Natoealofa considers himself fortunate to be alive and has always worked hard for everything he has ever needed.
His older sister, Olataga Natoealofa-Matini, moved back home to live with her brother and their father after losing their mother a few years ago.
She describes her brother as a private and independent young man.
“He’s been through a lot, especially since we lost our mother six years ago.
Even after battling meningococcal, he never lets his disability hold him back from what he aspires to be.”
“Our mother would be so proud of him. I know I am.”
As for Rex Natoealofa, he continues to have a positive outlook on life and goes on to encourage even the person who took his car.
“I pray and forgive the culprit who stole my car. I’m just glad no one was hurt - we all deserve second chances.”
Hero Image: A younger Rex Natoealofa pictured celebrating a birthday in hospital after having his legs amputated.