When she was just 11, Miss Loh Jia Wei was left wheelchair-bound due to the most accidental of circumstances. She was tripped by a running schoolmate and fractured her thigh bone.
Diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) at the tender age of three, Miss Loh, now 19, was already experiencing muscle weakness and an unsteady gait when she was tripped.
This resulted in an injury that prevented her from walking again.
But that did not stop her from topping her cohort at Evergreen Primary in the 2007 Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE). And now, she has been awarded a coveted Public Service Commission (PSC) Scholarship.
She is one of 82 recipients of the PSC Scholarship who received their awards in a ceremony yesterday at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel.
Miss Loh will reading law at the University of Oxford.
After all these years, does she hold a grudge against her schoolmate?
"It was overwhelming at the time. But I have never blamed him. It was an accident," said the former Raffles Institution student, exhibiting both courage and graciousness in the face of her condition.
"In fact, I felt very insecure while walking. I actually feel more secure in my wheelchair. This is also to be expected for people with SMA because our muscles will weaken over time," she said, adding that she used to fall up to several times an hour before her accident.
The accident happened in August 2006. Just a few months later, in December, Miss Loh had to go through a second operation to correct a curvature in her spine because her muscles were too weak to support it.
A metal rod was inserted to hold her spine in place.
"My biggest challenge was the pain after the operation," recalled Miss Loh.
"It got more and more intense, but I still tried to do my work consistently."
During her final year in primary school, Miss Loh had to study in bed because she was too weak to move about.
"I used a bolster to prop up my books so I could read," she said.
"But I couldn't have done it without the support of those around me. Doing work didn't feel like a chore," she added, crediting her form teacher at the time and her friends for their encouragement.
Miss Loh's mother, Madam Loke Wai May, 53, quit her job in the civil service after her daughter's accident and has stayed home to care for her ever since.
"My mother has been a pillar of support," said Miss Loh. "She made a great sacrifice for me."
Miss Loh admits that she still experiences pain around her lower hip because of the rod supporting her spine.
"But I don't want my disability to be a hindrance. I want to make a point that people with disabilities can do it, too."
This article was first published on July 23, 2014.
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