‘Spina bifida won’t keep me down’

Perry Cunningham
FINISHED 12 KM CITY TO SURF - Perry Cunningham with Rumbidzai Nhongo, Christine Wigston and Caitlin Choveaux

Born with spina bifida, an incurable congenital disorder, Perry Cunningham struggled to come to terms with his many near-death encounters.

The spinal damage that confined Perry to a wheelchair from a young age was only one of many health problems that he battled with growing up.

"As a kid I didn't cope well at all," he says. "I was pretty angry at the world and at God."

Raised by his single mum and three sisters, Perry's family faced many financial difficulties to add to the strain.

"There have been times when doctors have just told me that I am going to die soon and then I simply haven't," he says.

"I have also been through a lot of emotional issues related to my condition. I was always struggling to fit in at school because I was so different."

"When I turned thirteen I started doing things I knew I shouldn't do because I was just trying to find acceptance," he says.

His grandparents used to take him to Sunday school as a child but it was only at this point in life that, after a near hospitalisation for a bad strain of flu, he cried out to God in desperation.

"I really didn't like who I was becoming," he says.

"It got to a stage where I was sitting on my bed one night and simply said: 'Ok, God if you are real and if you are actually there and if you care, then I will give you a chance at changing my life and making it better."

Three months after asking Jesus to come in and change him from the inside out, Perry recalls that a random voice began speaking to him.

"I was home alone so I started freaking out and I was like, there is someone in the house and I'm about to die," he says. "I later found out it was the voice of God asking me if my life was getting any better."

When he looked back at that moment, Perry says he realised that he had come through far too much to still be alive.

"I couldn't argue that there was no God anymore," he says.

"That was when I pretty much decided that He has got to be real because he has brought me through so much."

Although Perry continues to struggle with his condition and has been in hospital for three months with a bone infection, he says from his bed, "Now I have got hope, I have got reason to live, reason to get up every morning and I've got perspective on life."

When he is facing a tough day, instead of just thinking that life is over, Perry says he thinks about one of his favourite Bible verses from 2 Corinthians chapter 4, verse 17: "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all."

"It's often said that even if God does nothing else for us, just the fact that He died is enough, the fact that He sent Jesus to die in our place," Perry says.

"I think that's true but He doesn't just stop there, He does so much more."

Through all his struggles Perry has relied on God to work out an amazing plan in his life and he continues to astound doctors with his passion for living life to the full.

Among his many plans he is determined to complete his university degree in social work and enjoys taking up any challenge that he is presented with.

One of his favourite examples happened last year at a routine check up when his doctor advised him that he was not healthy enough to compete in the 12km City to Surf race he had signed up for.

"The next week when he saw me for my check up he immediately said 'you did it didn't you' and I said 'yep, and I finished it' so I got a kick out of proving him wrong."

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