Bangkok blast survivor's painful road to recovery

Wesley Ong is making progress more than 2 months after the blast, which also injured his wife and two sisters

More than two months have passed since the two blasts that took place inside the Erawan Shrine at the Rachaprasong intersection in Bangkok.

The Aug 17 attack killed 20 people and injured 125, including four members of the Ong family, who were at the downtown shrine to offer their prayers during their an-nual holiday in Thailand.

Mr Wesley Ong, 53, who was there with his wife and two of his sisters, was the most severely injured.

He had his first operation in Bangkok for screws to be inserted to join the bone of his right shin that was broken by two bullet pellets from the impact of the blast.

He also needed a second high-risk operation to remove a 5mm bullet pellet that had pierced and torn his colon, and to mend the tear. Another 5mm bullet pellet is still lodged in the muscles of Mr Ong's left thigh, near a tendon and nerves. 

MENTAL PAIN

Sometimes, you feel useless, because you can't do anything.

But we are mature adults. We take it in stride and we don't let the depressive state overcome us.

MR WESLEY ONG 

It is a painful road to recovery, both mentally and physically.

Since returning to Singapore on Aug 29, Mr Ong has had his stitches removed. He has also just started his weekly physiotherapy sessions at Sports Solutions, a physical therapy clinic located near Holland Village.

He had more than 30 stitches running down his stomach and his right shin each.

"I counted 72 when they were removing metal staples from the wounds," he said. 

The freelance engineer currently walks with the aid of crutches. His eagerness for a speedy recovery makes him a patient who is constantly testing his limits when it comes to exercise and pain.

At a recent physiotherapy session at Queenstown Swimming Complex, while making his way up a flight of stairs on his crutches, he even tried to climb two steps at a time. 

The Bangkok bomb attack has taught the Ong family to be more cautious about their environment. "We cannot take safety for granted. Not even in Singapore," he said.

His siblings, semi-retired administration executive Betty Ong, 69, needed six stitches on her left thigh, and sister Jane, 59, needed two operations, done in Bangkok - one to remove shrapnel in her leg and the other to remove fragments on the left side of her forehead. 

Betty, who is an active senior citizen, has thrown herself back into her daily activities, including her work as a grassroots volunteer, for which she was awarded a public service medal recently. Jane still suffers from numbness on the left side of her face and undergoes acupuncture therapy sessions. 

The nightmares have decreased but memories of the gory scene have not faded. News of the Oct 10 bombings in Ankara, the capital city of Turkey, that killed more than 100 people, brought back memories from that fateful night. 

Strong family support has helped the four blast survivors cope with the trauma of the attack. All four suffered temporary hearing loss initially, but have since recovered. 

Mr Ong's wife Jennifer, 41, who suffered superficial injuries, has been cheering him on - being his driver as well as accompanying and encouraging him during his physiotherapy sessions as he occasionally cries from the pain.

Mr Ong said: "Sometimes, you feel useless, because you can't do anything. But we are mature adults. We take it in stride and we don't let the depressive state overcome us."

Despite the reopening of the Erawan Shrine and the arrest of the primary suspect, there are many unanswered questions which still haunt them. "How can someone be so inhuman and cruel? Why did it happen to us? Why do this to innocent people? What if we hadn't gone to offer our prayers? What if we had stayed a little longer in the hotel and gone to the shrine a little later?

"You have to try to move on, or else you will end up staying at the same spot," said Mr Ong, a staunch Buddhist.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 05, 2015, with the headline 'Bangkok blast survivor's painful road to recovery'. Print Edition | Subscribe