Sunday, January 24, 2010

Obituary: Disabled New Zealand woman featured in documentary series dies

From the Sunday Star Times in New Zealand:

The severely disabled woman who captured the hearts of thousands of Kiwis in the 1990s through a series of documentaries chronicling her day-to-day life has died.

Michelle Belesarius (pictured), known to viewers by her pseudonym Shelly West, died in Auckland Hospital on Thursday. Crippled as a toddler with rheumatoid arthritis and blind from the age of 19 from the side effects of medication, Belesarius made her first appearance on New Zealand TV screens in 1993 in the documentary Miles and Shelly Go Flatting.

The documentary followed Belesarius's decision to move into a flat with Miles Roelants, who suffered from spina bifida, and the gradual disintegration of their relationship. Their story provoked public debate at the time of screening about the rights of the physically disabled to live a "normal" life and was the first of several documentaries about Belesarius.

In 1996 more than 600,000 people tuned in to watch the documentary Shelly has a Baby, which showed how Belesarius, who weighed just 27.5kg, fought against the odds and medical advice to have a healthy baby girl, Michela.

In recent years Belesarius had dabbled in radio, filling in on Radio Live as an overnight talkback host. Radio Live's Mitchell Harris said Belesarius was one of the bravest and most determined women he had ever met.

"She was extremely disabled and her voice was virtually all she had that functioned properly," Harris said. "It was extraordinary that she was able to bear a child."

Belesarius is survived by her husband Dion and daughter Michela. Her funeral will be held in Auckland Jan. 25.