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An ALS Patient Faces Life With Positivity

Back in June 2014, the Tzu Chi Home Care Services team were notified about an Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) patient. ALS, also commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a rare
affliction that causes muscular weakness and atrophy in patients. Sufferers may eventually lose their ability to control all voluntary movement; their mobility is affected, and they may experience respiratory failure at the end stage of the disease.

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After being properly geared up for his physiotherapy session, ALS patient Yu Han Cong is supported by his caregiver and physiotherapist Vinoth as he walks.  Photo by Li Jia Yi

Many people may not have heard of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), but after the Ice Bucket Challenge, which aims to promote awareness of the disease and to encourage donations for its research went viral on social media in 2014, awareness of ALS increased. The famous physicist Stephen Hawking is one such sufferer of the disease. 

Forty-six-year-old Yu Han Cong is an ALS patient receiving attention from the Tzu Chi Home Care Services team. After a year of medical care and reviews, he can now step out of his home confidently with the support of a family member.

When asked if he liked venturing out of his house, Yu, who has lost his power of speech, would smile and blink his eyes once to indicate in the affirmative.

Medical Professionals Care When Life Throws a Challenge

Before the onset of the disease, Yu led a normal and happy life with his Filipino wife and two young children. He currently lives in a two-room flat. In 2010, he started noticing that his right fingers felt weak, and this problem gradually spread to both his hands and finally his legs. In the second half of 2013, he experienced rapid muscular atrophy and this resulted in him losing the power of speech and the ability to take care of his daily living needs.

The Tzu Chi Home Care Services team was notified about Yu on 30 June 2014, and proceeded to visit him. The team could not do much for his rare condition, and only visited him to review his situation, taking his blood pressure and weight measurements once a month or so. However, ten months later, things took a turn for the better after he started receiving physiotherapy from Vinoth, a physiotherapist who joined the Home Care Services team in April 2015.

Before the start of a physiotherapy session, Yu’s caregiver, Cristina (a sister of his wife), would put on the required protective neck collar for him, drape a towel around his shoulders and proceed to put on his waist and elbow strap.

“One, two, three……”
“Do it carefully……”  

Vinoth had his full attention on Yu during every treatment. During the initial phase, Yu could only walk very slowly and the muscles in his legs would tremble. He would have to stop for a rest after a short distance before continuing.

Vinoth recalled that the first time he saw Yu in April 2015, the latter was lying on the sofa and could hardly move. However, under his continued care, Yu’s condition today has improved. Cristina was very grateful for the efforts of the medical team and expressed how happy she was. Whereas before she had to use a lot of strength to hold him up, she now only needed to support him lightly.

Vinoth taught Cristina how to care for and help in rehabilitation exercises for Yu — gently clench the fists and open them, then straighten the fingers. Through the simple therapy sessions done every day, Yu leant how to accomplish simple daily tasks with his remaining strength and this also prevented the worsening of his condition.

As ALS sufferers may suffer breathing difficulties and suffocate in their sleep, the Home Care team informed the Tan Tock Seng Hospital of Yu’s condition and borrowed respiratory equipment to ease his breathing. Lim Kim Yan, staff nurse of the Team, said, “Every patient’s circumstance is different, so we will provide aid according to their individual needs.” 

The healthcare team noticed that Yu was weak due to malnutrition and gave their feedback to Tzu Chi Singapore, which provided him with free milk supplies after assessing his family’s financial situation. Yu’s facial muscles had atrophied and he could no longer chew; the milk could only be fed to him through a tube inserted into his stomach. Tzu Chi also provided him with an adjustable reclining bed so that he could sleep more comfortably.

No Resentment, Only Gratitude

Despite his difficult circumstances, Yu has never felt resentful. He has a simple wish ‒ to see his children grow up. Seeing the lack of negativity towards his life’s situation, Vinoth expresses admiration for Yu.  

With the help of his family and friends, Yu had a flat screen computer installed and is able to manipulate the mouse with the weak strength in his toes. He communicates with the outside world thus, and sometimes emails Vinoth to give the latter his well--wishes.

“Find cure live for my family, Thank you!” This message suddenly appeared on the computer screen. Using his toes, Yu typed out this simple message to convey his gratitude to the medical team.

In the face of an incurable disease, Yu shows how he bravely accepts and deals with it. With the support and care from his family and the medical team, he finds the strength to battle on.

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Since he first started working on Yu after he joined the Tzu Chi medical Home Care Services Team in April 2015, Vinoth has seen him make good progress. Photo by Dai Xiao Tong

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Vinoth teaching Cristina how to help Yu use his remaining muscles in his daily life and to prevent his condition from worsening. Photo by Dai Xiao Tong

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Yu lost his ability to live life as before when the disease struck and relies on a feeding tube now. Despite his difficult circumstances, he is not resentful. Photo by Li Jia Yi

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Yu had a flat screen computer installed and by manipulating the mouse with his toes, he can type messages and communicate his feelings to the outside world. Photo by Dai Xiao Tong

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