Spine snaps as he falls 3 storeys

SINGAPORE - After an accident that left him paralysed from the chest down, he fell into complete despair. He could not walk or use his hands.

He couldn't even control his bladder or bowel movements.

Mr Thomas Chua Chee Siong, 32, tells The New Paper on Sunday: "I felt completely helpless, like a lump of dead meat. "I used to be fit and strong, and even had girlfriends. "But now I needed help to brush my teeth, wash my face, even shower.

"It was humiliating. I kept thinking how my life could be reduced to this. When I opened my eyes in the morning, all I wanted to do was shut them again and go back to sleep."

Back in 1998, he was a Temasek Polytechnic student gunning for a diploma in electronics, telecommunication, micro-electronics and computer engineering.

Then one day, he attended a Christmas party at a friend's house.

He is not sure how, but in a drunken stupor, he fell out of a window and three storeys down into the kitchen on the ground floor.

In the hospital, doctors found that his spine had snapped into two and his right lung had collapsed. Mr Chua fell into a coma. Doctors told his family the chances of him surviving were slim.

"The neurosurgeon told my family that even if I pulled through, I would not only be bedridden, but dependent on a respirator for the rest of my life."

Beating the odds, Mr Chua gained consciousness 10 days later, but found he had lost almost all sensation on his skin. He could only rotate his eyes to look around.

He says: "Whenever I tried to move my hands, fingers or legs, it would feel like a ton.

"The more I tried, the more painful my head felt, and the faster my heart would pound. I just couldn't do it."

Broke down and cried

Broke down and cried

He also had a hard time explaining the situation to his mother, Madam Ng Ah See, 59.

He says: "She kept asking me why I had drunk so much, why I had fallen out the window, and why I had to go and do something so stupid."

At one point, he felt so hopelessly trapped while in hospital that he broke down and cried in front of her.

He says: "I just wanted to let go of everything that I had kept bottled up... my frustrations, my anger and my guilt."

His mother, he says, was taken aback. She just stood there, with tears down her cheeks. She put one hand on his shoulder and said: "Never mind, never mind."

She never talked about his accident again.

Mr Chua spent almost a year in hospital - seven months in Tan Tock Seng Hospital and four months in Ang Mo Kio Community Hospital.

Sadly, things did not improve. After returning home to his four-room flat in Dover Crescent, he was so desperate to find a cure that he even bought a bottle of alternative "medicine" for $400.

He dutifully drank it for two months, before he realised he had been cheated.

He says: "I just wanted to run away from my disability. I would have done anything.

"Since then, I've realised that the best thing to do is accept reality and move on."

He drew inspiration from the story of a Japanese man, Mr Hirotada Ototake, who was born with a condition which left him with no arms and legs.

Despite this, Mr Hirotada went on to graduate from a prestigious university in Japan, and wrote an autobiography in 1998 which sold over four million copies.

Says Mr Chua: "It was because of him that I was inspired to write my own book.

"I wanted to be as successful as him, and I wanted my book to sell, hopefully even more copies than his!"

Advice to others with disabilities

Advice to others with disabilities

Slowly, word by word, he dictated his book as his maid typed. It took four years.

His book, Beyond The Fall, was published in 2005. He has since sold or given away 80 per cent of the 3,000 copies.

He also took up mouth-painting in 2003, and has completed 12 paintings so far.

From 2001, he gave talks to schoolchildren on what it means to be handicapped.

He stopped only last year due to health problems. The pain in his neck and right shoulder flared up. Nonetheless, he continues to be inspired by stories of successful people with disabilities, like the late actor Christopher Reeve, who became a quadriplegic in 1995 after being thrown from a horse.

The Superman star required a wheelchair and breathing apparatus for the rest of his life.

Mr Chua says: "His condition was worse than mine. Yet, he raised so much funds and helped so many people. He showed it's possible to do something meaningful even after you're disabled."

His advice to others with disabilities?

"Get used to your disability and learn to live with it. Since we have to carry on, we might as well do it in the best way we can.

"No matter what happens to me, I want to be able to say that I have lived life to the fullest."

Mr Thomas Chua's book is available at $15 each. Order one via e-mail: cos_mark@yahoo.com.sg.

bang@sph.com.sg


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