WONG ZI HENG
“Persons with disabilities can also contribute meaningfully to society. I hope that they can see that people with special needs can also contribute as part of the community. As a teacher, I also hope that my students can help build a more inclusive future for Singapore.”
My life took an unexpected turn back in August 2013. It was the last day of my faculty’s orientation camp and I was there as a senior helping out. We were at the beach at Sentosa playing games. Just like any other orientation, each group will try to earn as much points as possible. I went up to a friend of mine who was part of the organising committee to ask for a task to earn points. It was simple, I had to jump into the water to get myself wet and roll on the sand afterwards. Having been a lifeguard at Sentosa and part of my junior college’s swimming team, I dived in without hesitation.
I knew something was different when I could not feel my body from neck down after the dive. I held on to my last breath while I tried to figure out what happened. I couldn’t struggle for help and could only wait for my friends to get me out of water. That wait seemed like an eternity. After my friends got me out of water, I was sent to the hospital where it was discovered through scans that I had broken my neck, and injuring my spinal cord in the process.
An operation was performed on my spine, which had a fractured C6 vertebra. This meant that I could not move my fingers, body and legs. I also lost the dignity of having bladder and bowel control. I was completely dependent on others for mobility. I was told that I would fully recover and would be able to walk again within two years, but this was not meant to be. After weeks of undergoing rehabilitation, I saw little improvement, but I did not give up hope. It was only after a few months of rehabilitation that for the first time, I broke down in despair, as I was disappointed at not being able to move my body in the way I wanted. I cried when I thought about my future.
I decided to change my perspective and thoughts towards my circumstances. I was lucky to be given a second chance to live again and was determined not to live the rest of my life in negativity.
With the support of my family and friends, I returned to my studies in August 2014 after a year of leave. As I stay in the east, travelling to school everyday was challenging. My school was aware of my plight and made accommodations for me to stay on campus. I was grateful for friends who assisted me in my daily tasks as well as in classes.
Today, I am a secondary school teacher who constantly reminds my students that there will always be obstacles in life and my hopes are that my students will learn the meaning of grit and resilience, and continue chasing their dreams in life.