Programme for Pupils with Multiple Disabilities
AGAINST ALL ODDS
Eighteen-year-old Michelle Ang is like most other teenagers: she enjoys shopping, texting, making friends on Facebook and hanging out with her siblings. But her story is extraordinary. She has come back from the jaws of death, battled past all odds to emerge into a beautiful young lady.
Michelle speaks haltingly, often looking at her mother, Mdm Ang to supplement her replies. But Mdm Ang assures us that’s because Michelle is not familiar with us; with people she knows, she chatters non-stop. A naughty glint in her eyes gives away the fact she may not be as reticent as she seems. When asked to describe her mother as strict, loving, friendly or something else, she replies without batting an eyelid, “strict.” Perhaps a combination of all those things, we suggest. “No no, just the first,” she laughs.
Hard to imagine that just a few years ago, the vivacious Michelle was afflicted with encephalitis, confined to a wheelchair and given to tantrums and violent behaviour – all of which were results of a sudden and severe illness. In 2006, she was hospitalised for four months – two months in intensive care unit and another two months in the high-dependency ward – after a fainting spell followed by a slurring of speech. For most part of that time, she remained in an unconscious vegetative state. Even after she woke up, Michelle remained non-verbal and largely unresponsive.
Till date, the doctors haven’t been able to explain what triggered her condition. “The doctors had given up hope, they told me there’s very little chance of her ever coming out of that state,” said Mdm Ang. But Michelle proved all of them wrong and how.
RECOVERY AND SOCIAL SUPPORT
Her recovery process started in 2008, when a medical social worker whom Mdm Ang refers to as ‘Ms Lena’ suggested Michelle should go to Rainbow Centre Singapore. Since the family was struggling financially, emotionally and in every other way (Mdm Ang is a single mother who had no source of income at the time) Michelle’s school and transport fees were subsidised. Nevertheless, it was a huge challenge: she was still non-verbal, had frequent meltdowns, at times even kicking the teachers and refusing to get off the bus. But she made remarkable progress. By the end of 2010, Michelle could form simple sentences and began to read. Her physical, emotional and communicative skills continued to improve. In 2012, she was elected the Head Prefect which marked a tremendous turnaround of events. Last year, she graduated from Rainbow Centre Yishun Park School (RCYPS) and at the graduation concert she even played the piano, which she had been learning in school. That’s not all: Michelle will soon begin an internship at RCYPS, the first student ever to be given such an opportunity. “I can’t wait to start work,” she exclaims. “I’ll do office administration jobs like photo-copying, filing, signing registers and so on.”
Michelle has no memories of the time she was sick – those few years seem to have been wiped out completely. But she has recollections of going to primary school before that and in particular, she remembers her Chinese language teacher Mr Ang who has been by her side ever since. Says Mdm Ang, “When others have given up on Michelle, he encourages her, motivates her to come round. I believe that’s what makes her even more determined to recover. We are grateful for his support and encouragement during our difficult time. If not for him, Michelle may not pull herself out of her unconscious state.”
Mdm Ang now works part-time and the family comprising Michelle, her elder sister Isabella – who though just a year older than Michelle, took care of her along with her mother – and four-year-old half-brother are looking forward to moving into their own home this year.
The bond between Michelle and Mdm Ang is obvious and inevitable. Perhaps the daughter gets much of her strength and determination from her mother. “All my battles have made me stronger, the word ‘regret’ doesn’t exist in my dictionary,” says Mdm Ang. Never say never – that’s her motto.
And we are sure Michelle, who likes to read and listen to music, can play the piano and draw, is eager to learn more and earn money, will continue to soar to greater heights as she moves along in her life.