Pastry chef hurt in NY crash: 'I miss the kitchen'

SINGAPORE- In two months, Mr Al-Matin Mohamed turns 25, and he has only one wish: to resume his work as a pastry chef.

Cycling in New York City last June, he was hit by a car driving on the wrong side of the road while fleeing a violent crime.

Battling shocking major injuries, his life hung in the balance for weeks as he drifted in and out of consciousness in hospital.

Now he is back in Singapore, slowly trying to put his life - and his body - back together, with regular physiotherapy and support from friends.

Despite a major fund-raising effort by supporters, Mr Al-Matin could still face a US$250,000 (S$319,000) medical bill, and he has so far been unable to claim compensation from the culprit.

He had gone to New York to work in Le Bernardin, a prestigious seafood restaurant, for a month to hone his skills after graduating from a culinary institute.

When he came to about a month after the accident, he found he was bedridden with metal plates inserted in his left arm and left thigh, and external fixators on his left calf and right thigh, to help the broken bones fuse back naturally. He had also lost function of his right hand.

"I only knew about my right hand a few weeks after I woke up. My parents tried to get me to sign some documents and I could not hold the pen properly. Then it all sank in," said the son of an engineer and a housewife. His first thoughts when he woke up from a coma were whether he could still bake, and play football.

The injuries were so severe that he could stand up and walk short distances only in October, when the external aids were removed. Plans were then made for him to return to Singapore.

When The Straits Times visited him at his Housing Board executive flat in Jurong West yesterday, his limbs were covered in bruises and scars. A long scar ran from the crease of his right elbow to his palm - caused by his most recent surgery at the National University Hospital (NUH) to improve the function of his right hand, which had suffered nerve damage.

When asked about the accident, he said he "can't remember anything, not even what happened two days before the accident", even after investigators showed him surveillance footage.

When the news broke, Mr Al-Matin's friends started to raise funds for him via Facebook. The amount eventually grew to more than $150,000, for which the family remains thankful. It went towards defraying medical and living expenses. Mr Al-Matin has an older sister and younger brother.

"I was very surprised... I didn't expect my friends to do a fund-raiser. I realised there were a lot of people who cared for me."

His housewife mother Nafisah Hui, 55, stayed in New York for months to care for him, and rented a one-bedroom unit where Mr Al-Matin stayed after he was discharged from hospital in August.

The accident may have left Mr Al-Matin temporarily unable to write or bake as before, but he has not lost his sense of humour. When asked what got him interested in baking, he said: "It's one of those things... where you baked sweet stuff to impress the girls."

Apart from going for check-ups and physiotherapy since returning here in November, Mr Al-Matin has been doing administrative work at fine-dining establishment Restaurant Andre.

He had earlier arranged with chef and owner Andre Chiang to work at his restaurant as a pastry chef after his stint in the US. On hearing of the accident, Mr Chiang arranged for him to do admin tasks until he was well enough to be in the kitchen. When asked why he wanted to resume work instead of resting at home, he said: "I miss the kitchen... I want to be as near the kitchen as possible."

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