‘I was born armless, not brainless’

By Tanya Wood

Former lawyer, city councillor, court disputes tribunal referee, hospital board chairman and spare-time boat builder Foxton Beach resident Rod Haines has not let the grass grow under his feet.

“Being born without arms gave me a slightly different life and it’s been pretty colourful,” he says.

“I was getting like The Old Man and the Sea telling stories and people said I should write them down.”

The word “can’t” doesn’t really exist for Mr Haines.

He has packed more into his life and distinguished academic career than most people, including being manager of the Privacy Commission. He has even won a handwriting competition.

In his spare time he has done the odd bit of skydiving, land yachting, gliding and water skiing – and designed, built and travelled on canal boats throughout the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

And he has recently launched an e-book – not an easy feat considering it took him “years to write” using his feet.

At 72, the Foxton Beach resident said he was still going strong.

“I was born armless, not brainless,” he says, which just also happens to be the title of the new book.

Sent to mainstream school back in the day when children with disabilities were usually put in a home, Rod learnt to write with his right foot – winning a handwriting competition.

At university while studying law he found there was not enough light on the floor to write so he learned again, using his left artificial arm. “I’m what you might call ambidextrous.”

He ran a psychiatric hospital in Nelson, given the job on the basis that “I had a disability so that made me an expert on disability, as well as having business qualifications”.

“Most of the people there weren’t mentally disabled, they … had physical disabilities not unlike my own.

“I just ran a home for people like me.”

Not sure what caused his dis- ability, Mr Haines believes it may be thalidomide.

Prosthetic arms and “gadgets” help Rod dress and use tools. One prosthetic arm can transfer his brain signals into movement. However, his wife Leonie said she would come home from work and find him lying high up on a scaffolding plank operating a sanding disc with one foot when they were building their canal boat.

“I still prefer using my feet,” he said. “I could even put contact lenses in using my foot … bit of a delicate operation. I still shave and do my teeth using my foot.

“My left leg is for balancing on, although it’s getting a bit harder these days turning light switches on and off with my foot.”

Mr Haines said he had been treated in the past by people as if he was stupid, some even shouting at him thinking he must be deaf as well. “Kids are great; they will ask you straight out: ‘Where are your arms mister?’ I have had to sell myself hard before people gave me any credibility.”

His wife says it doesn’t take long for people to realise there’s a keen brain in that head. “He’s very astute.”

His e-book, Armless not Brainless, is also a love story about their relationship. Right from the start Mr Haines and his future wife quickly became close friends.

“I could talk to him,” she says. “He was someone I could really relate to and we hit it off straight away. He still is my best friend.”

Mr Haines has published a third of his book to see how much interest there is. “I may have to start tidying up the other two parts just in case.”

Armless not Brainless is available to download on Windows, Android and IOS using the Kobo app.

- Horowhenua Chronicle