Generation Grit

Finding hope again after despair

Ms Azlin Amran, 33, became paralysed from the waist down after falling into the shaft of an escalator. It took her a few years to come to terms with her disability, but she has bounced back and now helps other people with disabilities return to work.
The accident changed Ms Azlin Amran from a carefree soul who loved travelling, to having to depend on others for the most basic of tasks, like going to the toilet. The turnaround came when she attended the SPD's Transition to Employment programme, wh
The accident changed Ms Azlin Amran from a carefree soul who loved travelling, to having to depend on others for the most basic of tasks, like going to the toilet. The turnaround came when she attended the SPD's Transition to Employment programme, which helps people disabled from an accident or illness rejoin the workforce through therapy and job placement aid.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Azlin Amran became paralysed from the waist down after falling into the pit of an escalator that was undergoing maintenance. It took a year before she could even think about the future, but she overcame her despair, found love and now helps other people with disabilities to return to work. The Straits Times speaks to her in this series on millennials who inspire us with their courage and resilience.

It has been nearly six years since one wrong step almost ended her life.

Ms Azlin Amran suffered a severely damaged spinal cord, fractured pelvis, punctured lungs and such terrible abrasions to her face that the nurses advised her not to look into the mirror for a month.

During those long years, she had to piece her life together again, re-framing her hopes and dreams so that despair would not destroy her.

Survive she did, though she changed forever.

Ms Azlin, now 33, remembers the day - Jan 28, 2013 - only too well. She was on her way to meet a friend for dinner.

Life then was good for Ms Azlin, who graduated from the business studies course conducted by Loughborough University through the PSB Academy.

A few months earlier, she had left her administrative job at a supplements firm to travel, and had visited South Korea, Malaysia and Nepal.

Ms Azlin recalled that on that fateful day, when she stepped onto the escalator at Tanah Merah MRT Station, there was no barrier blocking the entrance to it to signal it was under maintenance.

Nor did she notice that the cover of the third step was missing before she fell into the escalator pit.

  • GENERATION GRIT

  • Know of a Singaporean aged 35 or below who has shown grit amid life's adversities? E-mail us at stnewsdesk@sph.com.sg

MOVING FORWARD

The thing that worked for me was being open to doing things in new ways and to stop feeling stuck in the past.

MS AZLIN AMRAN, on bouncing back from dejection and hopelessness.

INSPIRING OTHERS

Azlin draws on her own personal experience and demonstrates compassion in her work. Her resilience and positivity have rubbed off on some of our clients.

MS SHARON CHEN, manager of SPD's Transition to Employment programme.

She was stuck in the waist-deep pit for about 30 to 45 minutes before the Singapore Civil Defence Force arrived and rescued her.

"I had trouble breathing and there was a lot of blood," she told The Straits Times. "I cried out for help and prayed it would not be my last breath."

Overnight, she went from being a carefree soul who loved the outdoors and travelling, to one who had to depend on others for the most basic of tasks, like going to the toilet.

An only child whose parents divorced when she was in kindergarten, she was then living with her mother, an administrative employee who is now retired.

Ms Azlin discovered the loss of her mobility a few days later by accident. Turning on her phone, she saw on WhatsApp an update from a friend to the others in their chat group about her condition.

The probability of her walking again was 3 per cent, the doctor had said, but her mother had not known how to break the news to her.

"I felt imprisoned in my own body. I couldn't think of how life could go on when I could not even do the most basic things on my own, like getting out of bed or taking a shower," said Ms Azlin, who was in Changi General Hospital for three months.

"In the first year after my accident, I cried when I spoke about my past, present or future.

"My past became something that was endearing, my present was something I resented and my future, something I feared."

She prayed every day for a miracle that she would walk again.

It was her only thought and it consumed her. The turnaround from this bleak emotional and mental state occurred only a year after the accident.

It began when she attended the SPD's Transition to Employment programme, which helps people disabled from an accident or illness re-join the workforce through therapy and job placement aid.

SPD is a charity that helps people with disabilities.

She received physiotherapy, occupational therapy and counselling for a year and gradually became stronger physically and emotionally.


Ms Azlin Amran her colleagues at SPD, where she now works in the same programme that had helped her during her recovery process. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

 
 
 

The support of family and friends and the chance to work through her grief, as well as meeting others with spinal cord injuries who are leading independent lives, gave her hope.

It took a few years for Ms Azlin to come to terms with how her life had changed. She said: "The thing that worked for me was being open to doing things in new ways and to stop feeling stuck in the past."

Two years after her fall, she started work at the SPD in the same programme that had helped her during her recovery process.

There was an opening and she bagged the job of employment support specialist, aiding those who have become impaired to return to work.

She enjoys the meaningful job.

"Before the accident, I led a carefree life but there was not a lot of meaning to tie it together.

"After the accident, I felt there was more purpose because of the work that I do," said Ms Azlin.

"Every day, I meet people who acquire physical impairments and I enjoy journeying with them as they learn that being happy and going back to work again is possible."

Ms Sharon Chen, manager of SPD's Transition to Employment programme, said clients who have worked with Ms Azlin often compliment her.

Ms Chen said: "Azlin draws on her own personal experience and demonstrates compassion in her work. Her resilience and positivity have rubbed off on some of our clients."


It took a few years for Ms Azlin Amran to come to terms with how her life had changed. PHOTO: KIMBERLY JOW

Ms Azlin takes the MRT from her home in Kallang to her place of work in Tiong Bahru. It is not a problem now, but the first time she had to take the train again, about six months after the accident, was an unnerving experience.

She felt faint when her friend pushed her, in her wheelchair, onto the travelator at a station; the surface was similar to that of an escalator and Ms Azlin was reminded of her accident.

But then, as now, she refused to let fear overcome her.

After the accident, she also found love again. She met her husband, a 32-year-old IT designer, online.

She was looking for a friend, but love blossomed. They have been married for two years.

She said: "He accepted me for who I am and loved me for who I am. He has been a source of strength and inspiration to me."

Her wanderlust also returned and she has visited countries like New Zealand, the United States and Iceland. Ms Azlin said she has made peace with the accident.

She said: "It's OK to feel broken for a certain amount of time, but do not allow circumstances to control how you live your life. You are in charge of your own narrative and you can tell a better story."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2018, with the headline 'Finding hope again after despair'. Print Edition | Subscribe