What you need to know:
In 2018, Susan Njogu got married to Philip Eling, an Australian man with a form of muscular dystrophy that limits his movement and requires him to use a wheelchair. Although many said it would not work, the couple are proving them wrong.
In January 2018, Susan Njogu walked down the aisle in a red-themed garden wedding at Thorndon Park, Adelaide, Australia. She stood at the altar dressed in a white gown with intricate red rose flower decorations and said her vows. She vowed to stick by her husband Philip Eling through thick and thin, through good health and sickness, just as her husband vowed to do the same.
In a matter of hours, news of her wedding spread like a bushfire. On one hand was an outpouring of congratulatory messages for a wedding that was widely seen as the manifestation of unconditional love. On the other, though, were pockets of allegations from people who felt that Susan had married for money.
You see, Susan had not just married any ordinary Joe. She had entered into marriage with a man who was born with a form of muscular dystrophy known as Bethlem myopathy. Due to this condition, her husband, Philip, relies on a special electric wheelchair for movement.
Going into an inter-abled marriage, a significant amount of public interest was going to be on how the couple would fair. They will not last three months. They will not last a year, some said. It is now nearly five years since Susan and Philip Eling became man and wife. This is their love story.
I live in Australia, but I was born in Elburgon, Nakuru County in a family of seven. I am 29. At the age of 22 in 2014, I got an opportunity to study in Adelaide, Australia for a diploma in disability studies. By the time I graduated, the government had restructured my study course into a diploma in community services.
I met my husband in 2017 shortly after completing my studies. At the time, I was job hunting. I had applied for roles that matched my qualifications in several companies.
In one of these companies, Philip was the customer engagement officer. My application went through. I was shortlisted and asked to go for a second interview.
During my second interview, Philip was among the team of recruiters who would be interviewing the candidates. A few days later, he reached out to me by email asking if we could meet outside the work environment for a friendly chat. I agreed.
Our first meeting at the Gloria Jeans Coffee in early 2017 was a lively encounter. He was easy to chat with. He had a deep pool of knowledge, and for someone at the start of their career, I found this encounter to be very enriching.
I was particularly impressed that he encouraged me to push my studies further to degree level, and I later enrolled myself for a Bachelor of Applied Social Sciences (Community Services) degree.
I also perceived that he seemed to be honest and genuine. He had a good heart. We were both single, we decided to start a friendship and see where it would take us. Our friendship blossomed, and as weeks went by, I noticed that Philip had developed feelings that were more than friendship for me.
The more dates we went on, and the more we spoke on phone, the more we realised that we had a lot of things in common. We had a significant number of mutual friends, we were in the same line of career and our religious beliefs were similar.
This accelerated our fondness for each other, and I too developed feelings that went beyond friendship for him. These feelings turned into an intense emotional connection and we decided to turn our friendship into a relationship.
I was not alarmed that Philip was living with a disability. I had a background of working and interacting with people living with disabilities throughout my study and work experience. As a result, my view of him was not affected by the kind of health condition he had.
On the contrary, I was pleased at how confident and assured he was about his abilities, his positive approach to life, and his embrace of happiness. He was a man above his health condition. He was not a man looking for a pity partner.
In mid-2017, Philip proposed. He proposed in Kiswahili. “Je, utakuwa bibi yangu? (will you be my wife?)” he asked. “Yes, I will!” I answered. We kicked off our wedding preparations and set a date for early 2018. This colourful day dawned on the morning of January 27, 2018, when we became husband and wife.
Our parents were not opposed to our marriage. My parents in Kenya knew I was passionate about working with persons living with disabilities. They knew that I did not see anyone living with a disability as a lesser human being, however, some friends and relatives were concerned about our relationship. They did not believe that our love was genuine. They felt that perhaps I should consider dating an able-bodied man.
Coping with this did not come easy. Philip and I had to boldly defend our love to people, and some were harder to convince than others. Some trolling continued well after our wedding, with the primary stigma being either a person with a disability is incapable of having genuine love (money must be involved), or the love is only a front for an African wanting to get citizenship.
Facing the trolls
After our marriage, and on multiple occasions, I have been the subject of trolls due to my tribe and the cultural stereotypes that are associated with my tribesmen.
One of these has been that Kikuyu women are lovers of money and can do anything for money. I would see black women who married white men get labelled as gold diggers, but after my wedding, I experienced this form of stereotype first hand. Perhaps my situation has been aggravated since we are an inter-abled couple. But such stereotypes cannot be further from the truth.
Philip and I work full time and our incomes go way back to before we met and got into a relationship. That said, I have learned to rise above the stereotypes.
I am grateful for the love and blessings we have received from most people who have been inspired by our relationship.
I am 33. I was born in Queensland, Australia, but I grew up in Adelaide, South Australia where my parents and I moved to when I was nine months old. I have two siblings, an older brother, and a younger sister.
Between 2017 and 2018 when I met and married Susan, I worked as a customer engagement officer and a local area coordinator for two different companies that focused on persons living with disabilities. Currently, I am a national disability insurance scheme specialist service coordinator for a leading firm in Australia.
I was born with a form of muscular dystrophy called Bethlem myopathy. This is a very rare disease. I was the first person to be formally diagnosed with it in the southern hemisphere. The disease remained undiagnosed for the first 29 years of my life.
During this time, it was placed under an unofficial diagnosis known as Congenital Muscular Dystrophy with Atrophy. The disease affects the skeletal muscles and connective tissue. It is mainly characterised by slowly progressive muscle weakness and joint stiffness known as contractures.
There are things that I wish I could do more for myself, especially because muscular dystrophy generally affects a person’s physical strength and movement. I would wish to be more independent in carrying out tasks than I am.
I require assistance with tasks such as brushing teeth, cooking, and cleaning, but I have learned not to allow my health limitations to entirely define my living. I do not focus on what I cannot do, rather, on what I can do and how to become better at it.
Meeting a soulmate
I had dated before I met my wife. I had experienced the ups and downs that come with relationships, but I never saw any relationship that did not work out being due to my health. My disability has not caused me any more heartbreak than the average man, however, finding true love for me was a gift from God.
When I met Susan, I felt like I had met my soulmate. I prayed to God that I would find the right woman to settle down with. My belief in love was so intense that in my 2012 memoir, Life Is What You Make It I declared that in future, God would bring the woman of my dreams out of nowhere to complement and complete my life. This woman turned out to be Susan, who came thousands of miles away from Elburgon in Kenya.
Like any other couple, we have faced the stresses that come with marriage, but we have learnt that the secret to making it work is being on the same wavelength.