Wounded warrior returns

30-year-old Jason Chee, who lost three limbs in a ship accident in 2011, has returned to work yesterday.
PHOTO: Wounded warrior returns

SINGAPORE - Soon after his horrific accident, even as he was coping with the pain of having lost three of his limbs, he had set his sights on regaining a normal life.

Yesterday, 31-year-old Jason Chee took a giant step towards his goal. He returned to the Republic of Singapore Navy as an operations supervisor at the Changi Naval Base.

It has been nearly 18 months since the navy serviceman was caught between a motorised winch and a berthing rope while doing a routine check on board a warship.

The gruesome accident claimed both legs, his left arm and three fingers of his right hand.

But Mr Chee, who holds the rank of Military Expert 2 in the navy, fought hard for his life and pulled through.

In his new role, he will be helping navy units to craft and plan their training requirements.

"I'm happy and excited to be back at work. In fact, I've been counting down to this day," he told My Paper.

"Before my accident, I was working on a ship. I loved to be on ship and to sail. I'll have to start all over again, but I'll just have to do it."

Even though his desk job is markedly different from his previous vocation as a weapons systems supervisor, Mr Chee has been looking forward to returning to work and has prepared himself for it.

"I made sure that my motorised wheelchair is fully charged before leaving my house for work, my navy uniform is ready, and I got my notebook and pen ready to jot down notes," he said.

He said his father was very happy that he was back at work. "When he knew I was going back to work, he asked about my job and my workplace. I told him not to worry, as everything has been taken care of," he said.

Over the past year, he has focused on his recovery and rehabilitation.

He was discharged from hospital only in June last year and underwent physiotherapy sessions, including a pool-based one.

At the same time, he took up sports as part of the healing process using his motorised wheelchair.

In fact, he has been so outstanding in this field that he represented Singapore and won a bronze team medal in table tennis at a regional sports event for disabled athletes earlier this year. He said that his goal is to take part in the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil.

"I will juggle my work, sports and academic commitments well. Playing table tennis helps me strengthen my right arm muscles - it's a form of rehabilitation. It helps me de-stress too," he said.

Mr Chee is currently learning how to walk on prosthetic legs through a thrice-weekly rehabilitation programme.

His full rehabilitation, with the goal of having him walk unaided eventually, is expected to take years.

But he remains undeterred.

Meanwhile, work has been under way to make his workplace more wheelchair friendly, with wider doorways and the installation of grip bars and ramps. Emergency call buttons have even been installed in the washroom.

When asked how he is coping, Mr Chee replied simply: "Everything is okay."

He added: "Now, I'm going back to work as a different person - on a wheelchair. But it doesn't matter how I look, because I still see myself as a regular navy serviceman, whose job is to protect the country."

This article by The Straits Times was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.