From becoming paralysed to then having his business shuttered due to the Covid-19 pandemic, professional tattoo artist Madanlal Aitabir's last six years have been an inspiring journey from adversity to hope.
"It just happened," says the 58-year-old, who suddenly collapsed six years ago because a growth was pressing against his spine. He recalls feeling weakness in his legs and hearing his son, then 16, frantically calling for an ambulance before blacking out that fateful Saturday morning.
When he regained consciousness at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, he could not feel his legs.
Doctors operated on him for six hours after they discovered a growth pressing on the nerves of his lower back. Despite the successful removal of the growth, it left him paralysed from the waist down.
"It was the worst news I ever heard in my life. I've never felt so useless," says Mr Aitabir, who broke down when he received the news.
He spent the next nine months in recovery before being admitted to an SPD rehabilitation centre. SPD, previously known as the Society for the Physically Disabled, is a local charity that provides services to support persons with disabilities.
But the father of three refused to be defeated. After 10 gruelling months of rehabilitation, he regained the ability to walk again.
He explains that the thought of being a burden to his three children motivated him to get back on his feet. "They are grown up and have their own problems to deal with. I wanted to be independent."
His elder son, 29, and daughter, 24, are married and have their own homes. Mr Aitabir and his wife divorced in 2016. He now lives with his youngest son, 22, in a rental Housing Board flat in Woodlands.
Calamity struck again this year. He was forced to shutter his tattoo studio in Yishun following the Covid-19 circuit breaker measures implemented on April 7.
It pays to be prepared
Thankfully, over the last six months, Mr Aitabir has been able to rely on his savings and stay afloat by continuing his tattoo business from home after the circuit breaker measures were lifted on June 19.
But he is most grateful for his health insurance plans, specifically integrated shield plans (IPs), which covered the total cost of his estimated five-figure medical and rehabilitation fees.
Throughout the entire ordeal, Mr Aitabir shares that he was not required to pay for anything with his own money.
"If not for insurance, I would still be drowning in debt trying to pay off all the medical bills."
While he doesn't remember the specifics, Mr Aitabir shares that his ex-wife bought supplementary private health insurance for him a few years before he found out about the growth.
"When I was able-bodied, I didn't know how important insurance was. Now I've realised the value of it."
In addition to hospitalisation insurance, Mr Aitabir could also have benefited from other forms of health insurance coverage.
His rehabilitation costs could have been covered by disability insurance. He would have also received a monthly benefit to supplement his loss of income.
Private insurer IPs are an add-on to MediShield Life, a compulsory basic health insurance plan that subsidises hospitalisation costs for Singaporeans and permanent residents.
To cushion potential income loss and cover long-term care costs, selected private insurers such as Great Eastern are now rolling out supplementary plans for CareShield Life - a compulsory long-term care insurance scheme that the Government launched on Oct 1.
These supplementary plans will provide additional coverage and benefits such as premium waivers with the inability to perform one of the activities of daily living (ADLs) and additional monthly payouts.
Terms and conditions apply. Protected up to specified limits by Singapore Deposit Insurance Corporation.
This feature is the second of a four-part series by Great Eastern.
Correction: The print version of this article on Oct 25 said that Mr Madanlal Aitabir suffered a stroke in 2014. Great Eastern and Mr Aitabir have since clarified that he did not suffer a stroke but collapsed due to a growth pressing against his spine. The story has been updated to reflect this change.