Facing the world with a smile despite disability

Facing the world with a smile despite disability
Madam Choong Siet May helping her husband, Mr Tan Whee Boon, to adjust a strap around his arm so that he can hold on to utensils and have lunch with his two teenage children. Mr Tan had four amputations last year after a bout of GBS infection, following a raw fish meal.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

This is Mr Tan Whee Boon's first Chinese New Year without his hands and feet.

The 51-year-old's limbs had to be amputated after he had severe food poisoning linked to Group B Streptococcus (GBS) infection last July.

However, the former technician was in good spirits when The Straits Times visited him at his Woodlands flat yesterday.

Asked if his celebrations this year would be any different from before, he joked in Mandarin: "I saved money this year since I don't have to buy new shoes and socks!"

Life goes on as usual, said his wife, Madam Choong Siet May, 47. "Just that this year he will wear shorts instead of trousers," she added.

The couple have been married for 16 years, and have a son in Secondary 3 and a daughter in Sec 4. The family had their reunion dinner at Mr Tan's cousin's home yesterday, and today, they will head to Johor Baru to stay with Madam Choong's family for two days.

"There's no difference from previous years," Mr Tan insisted, with his usual jovial smile. "But now I go to church."

Mr Tan had a bout of vomiting and diarrhoea after eating a raw fish dish last year and tests revealed he had severe pneumonia complicated by sepsis. He was given a drug to direct blood flow to his vital organs, which saved his life. But his hands and feet then turned gangrenous and had to be amputated.

The couple have been positive throughout their ordeal, always smiling in photos. Madam Choong said yesterday: "You can cry but after that, you still have to get on with life. This is something that we have to get through anyway, might as well do it with a smile."

To eat, Mr Tan wears an elastic cuff on his arms that can hold on to utensils. He needs his wife's help to use the toilet, shower and put on his clothes, but he can move about independently.

Since he was discharged from Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in September, he has been outfitted with prosthetic legs, which he can walk in for up to 300m. Once, he even used the legs for a meal out with friends.

Usually, he moves around in a motorised wheelchair that has been modified so he can reach the control without leaning forward. His only difficulty is in using the toilet.

Now, he is waiting to be outfitted with prosthetic hands that he can control with his upper arm muscles so he can go out on his own.

Mr Tan's story generated vast public support and donations last year. It has inspired him to want to help others like him.

"I didn't expect so many people to help. It was very encouraging. I want to go into social work and help other amputees," he said.

While his brush with GBS was harrowing, Mr Tan is not going to stay away from raw fish.

"I don't think anything can be more horrifying than what I've already been through, so I don't want to live in fear," he said.


This article was first published on February 08, 2016.
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