By Arul John
IN a few minutes, he turned from an active teen into an invalid.
Muhd Noor Azri Abdul Rahman was a bright and healthy Victoria School student who dreamt of becoming a cardiologist.
But an accident last year changed all that - his left side is now partly paralysed, he suffers from frequent headaches and pain in his eyes and he struggles to sleep at night.
In March last year, Muhd Noor Azri, who was then a Secondary 4 science stream student, and 19 of his classmates went to a cable-ski park at East Coast Park. They were accompanied by a physical education teacher.
The cable skiing was part of their PE lesson.
Mr Low Eng Teong, the school's principal, said the activity is part of a module in their PE Enrichment Programme.
He said it was first introduced to the students in 2006 and is now part of the school's PE curriculum.
In cable skiing, water skiers are pulled along cables suspended overhead from specially designed pylons.
Muhd Noor Azri's father, taxi driver Abdul Rahman Abdul Hamid, 45, said: 'At first, I did not sign the consent form, and did not let my son join the activity. But a few days later, he came back and said his teacher told him the other students were also going.
'When my wife told me this, I agreed to let him go.'
Muhd Noor Azri, 17, said he and his classmates wore their PE shirts, shorts, life vests and the skis provided by the ski park during the cable skiing.
He said he and his classmates had four previous cable-skiing sessions before the fateful day.
He said: 'That day, I was skiing round the circuit at the ski park and holding on to the cable overhead. Suddenly, I stumbled and fell face down into the water. When I came to, I wanted to swim to shore but I could not move.
'It was my classmate who jumped into the water and pulled me to shore.'
He was taken to Changi General Hospital.
His mother, housewife Madam Azizah Jaffar, 45, rushed to the hospital when she heard about the accident.
She said in Malay: 'I was told my son suffered a stroke from the impact when his head hit the water and his left side was paralysed.'
The teen was later transferred to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH).
There, it was found that the right side of his brain was swollen and severely damaged.
Part of the right side of his skull was removed to relieve the swelling in his brain and a shunt was placed in his head to clear any build-up of fluid.
Madam Azizah said: 'The doctors tried more oxygen and medication but they did not work. The doctors then called my husband, who was driving his taxi at the time, to ask for his consent to do the operation.
'They said Muhd Noor Azri would die if he did not have the operation, so my husband agreed. For about two months, the right side of my son's head had a sunken depression where his skull should have been.'
A plate was later put in to replace the part of the skull that had been removed.
After three months at TTSH and a month's rehabilitation at Ang Mo Kio Hospital, Muhd Noor Azri went home.
But three weeks later, he developed a fever and started vomiting.
'He returned to TTSH, where it was found that the plate and shunt had become infected. The plate was removed and the shunt was replaced with a new one.
'The surgeons did not immediately replace the plate as they wanted his brain to recover first. The first plate cost about $2,000 but the new one was a titanium one worth $19,000,' said Madam Azizah.
Muhd Noor Azri spent another seven months in hospital and went home in February.
Missed O levels
He missed his O-level exams last year and this year.
A tearful Mr Abdul Rahman said: 'I could not drive my taxi for three months after my son's accident because I could not focus on my work. My son had high hopes and dreams but those are nearly gone now.'
Madam Azizah added: 'Unlike my husband, I do not cry much or show much emotion. I have to be strong for the sake of my son, husband and the rest of my family.'
Mr Abdul Rahman said the school paid his family more than $21,000 from its student insurance scheme and from donations.
Madam Azizah said the Islamic Council of Singapore also gives them $180 and food vouchers worth $60 every month.
She said Muhd Noor Azri underwent seven operations costing $70,000 in all. Her husband's health insurance paid 90 per cent of Muhd Noor Azri's hospital bills, and their Medisave helped pay the rest.
Muhd Noor Azri still has to attend weekly medical reviews at TTSH and physical therapy three times a week at the Society for the Physically Disabled.
Madam Azizah said the medical reviews cost $25 per session, while her Medifund helps pay for the physical therapy sessions.
Muhd Noor Azri walks slowly around the living room and corridor of his flat near Serangoon Road.
Twice daily, his parents also use a device they bought to electrically stimulate the nerves of his left hand and arm.
'I can lift my left arm but the grip in my left hand is weak. My left leg is getting better but I am worried that my left hand is not much better,' said Muhd Noor Azri.
He said a psychological assessment last year showed he was not ready to return to school as his visual and mathematical functions had been severely impaired.
Another assessment is due next month.
This article was first published in The New Paper on Oct 17, 2008.