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Defying the Odds
07 March 2018

With devastating odds stacked against him, HCA Day Care patient Eric Ong shows us how willpower and community support are integral in overcoming seemingly impossible challenges. 

Striding briskly across HCA Hospice Care’s (HCA) Day Care Centre, it is hard to imagine that 69-year-old Eric Ong was in a near-paralytic state just months ago. The avid traveller first experienced numbness in his limbs during a trip to Japan with his son last August. “When we were at the airport, I could barely walk,” Eric shares. 

“When the doctor broke the news to me, I felt very helpless”

The numbness soon escalated into debilitating pain and Eric was unable to walk anymore. An MRI revealed that there was a large tumour pressing on the nerves in Eric’s spine, resulting in the symptoms he was experiencing. “The doctor told me it was inoperable,” Eric says. “Radiotherapy was recommended to keep the tumour under control.”
After 10 sessions of radiotherapy, Eric’s prognosis remained bleak. He was also confronted with the devastating news that he would never walk again. “When the doctor broke the news to me, I felt very helpless,” he shares. But not one to be deterred by the curveballs life tosses his way, Eric was determined to get back on his feet again. 

Eric puts his leg muscles to work on the treadmill with his physiotherapist monitoring

Healing touch

Eric was referred to HCA late last year following a 1.5-month-long stay at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. To alleviate the caregiving burden on his wife, who also has to care for her cancer-stricken father, he decided to attend day care at HCA.  
A stickler for dates and numbers, his mental clarity is impressive. “My first visit to HCA was on 13 December 2016,” he says with a smile. “I was in a wheelchair in the first three weeks.” 
Eric is effusive in his praise for HCA, its staff and volunteers. “The staff and volunteers at HCA are very good to me,” he regales. “I didn’t want to impose on them, which was why I was determined to stand up and walk again.” 

Simple stretching exercises helps Eric to regain his strength

Alongside oral chemotherapy to curb the growth of the tumour, which he commenced in October 2016, Eric began physiotherapy at our Day Care Centre. There is a designated physiotherapy room within the premises for day care patients to improve their motor skills and to boost their physical strength. Physiotherapy sessions are conducted three times a week by an external professional and each patient receives a customised set of exercises based on their physical needs and condition. 

“You can overcome all challenges with the right state of mind.”

The weekly physiotherapy sessions proved very beneficial to Eric’s condition. “Within a month of starting physiotherapy, I was able to walk again,” he says proudly. “The physiotherapist really pays attention to ensure we are doing the exercises correctly.” 

What was once thought to be impossible, Eric breezes through the stairs physiotherapy

Eric recounts how his muscles were weak before he started physiotherapy, but he can easily manage climbing over 70 steps in one session now. He emphasises the importance of maintaining a positive and resilient attitude towards life. “Willpower is very important,” Eric muses. “You can overcome all challenges with the right state of mind.”
He also attributes his recovery to the support given by his loved ones and the staff at HCA. “The staff at HCA kept encouraging me and they would follow me around to ensure I didn’t fall,” Eric says. 

Daily living is now made possible for Eric, seen here with a volunteer who helped with his hand-made mooncakes

A proud grandfather of eight, he speaks fondly of his family: “My wife takes very good care of me and she helps me with physiotherapy exercises at home too.”
Eric’s enthusiasm for life is infectious. “I still want to live for a good few more years!” he laughs.