The triathlete who was brutally attacked with a chainsaw during an early morning training session is still holding on to his dream of competing in the Ironman 70.3 in Dubai in January. Doctors, however, have warned that his recovery could take time.
Mhlengi Gwala had to undergo five hours of surgery on his lower right leg at Inkosi Albert Hospital on Wednesday after three men pinned him down and tried to saw his leg off near the University of KwaZulu-Natal on Tuesday.
"He has set his mind, even before he was attacked, on competing in the Ironman 70.3, but the doctors say that the duration of rehabilitation differs from person to person," said Gwala's friend and athletic sponsor Sue de la Porte.
"Luckily he has Sandile Shange around who is very encouraging and helpful."
Shange, Gwala's close friend and training partner, said that he still had a "long road to recovery".
"We are not sure when he will be able to compete again. He must recover first," said Shange.
Two years to recover
There was also uncertainty about when Gwala would be discharged from the hospital.
"He will be discharged when the doctors are satisfied with his progress. Right now, he still needs to be monitored," explained Shange.
"But he's good. He's okay."
Team South Africa's Olympic doctor Kevin Subban visited him on Thursday, at the Durban hospital where he is recovering, to guide his rehabilitation plans.
Subban said that patients who suffered less severe injuries than Gwala required six to nine months to fully recover.
"Because of the severity of the damage to the tissue, it will take Mhlengi about two years to recover. Muscle damage is easier to repair, but in this case, there was nerve damage which complicates things," explained Subban.
In high spirits
Gwala's recovery and rehabilitation will be driven by the Elite Athlete Development Programme (EADP) team at Prime Human Performance Institute based at Durban's Moses Mabhida Stadium.
"He needs therapy now because of the traumatic stress of the incident, which will be provided to him through EADP. It will take him six weeks to recover from the acute effects and then we can start with some strength training," said Subban.
Fellow triathlete and friend Henry Schoeman broke the news of the incident on his Twitter account on Tuesday.
He and girlfriend Franzel Allen visited Gwala at the hospital on Thursday evening.
"His spirits were quite high and he was a bit overwhelmed because so many people were there to see him," said Allen.
"His biggest concern is whether he will be able to run again. The doctors say it might take a while because the rehabilitation period is so long.
More than R600 000 donated
"We're very optimistic and he's already moving his toes, which is amazing considering he only had the operation on Wednesday."
Gwala received an outpouring of public support following the attack, and donations to a crowdfunding account have exceeded R600 000.
Provincial police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Thulani Zwane said that there had been no arrests and an investigation was still underway.