It Changed My Life : 'I felt I was no longer a man,' says multiple amputee

But multiple amputee bounces back and seeks to raise funds by pulling a car with a rope

Mr Mohamad Hasri, 47, had five fingers and both lower limbs amputated because of vasculitis, which attacks the blood vessels. He is now able to walk with the help of prosthetics, and gains joy from helping other amputees.
Mr Hasri and his physiotherapists at Bright Vision Hospital, the day before he was discharged in February last year. Mr Mohamad Hasri Abu Hasan lost several fingers and both his legs to a rare disease about two years ago. He fell into depression but
Mr Mohamad Hasri Abu Hasan lost several fingers and both his legs to a rare disease about two years ago. He fell into depression but rebounded and can walk again with the help of prosthetics. Convinced that positivity is infectious, Mr Hasri now spends a lot of time encouraging other amputees. "I don't want to be idle. I want to contribute. I want to inspire others and motivate them to walk again," he says.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Mr Hasri and his physiotherapists at Bright Vision Hospital, the day before he was discharged in February last year. Mr Mohamad Hasri Abu Hasan lost several fingers and both his legs to a rare disease about two years ago. He fell into depression but
Mr Hasri and his physiotherapists at Bright Vision Hospital, the day before he was discharged in February last year. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MOHAMAD HASRI

In the eight years that Mohamad Hasri Abu Hasan worked as an operations executive for a dormitory builder, he took not a single day of medical leave.

He had a strong constitution which was not easily compromised by colds, flu and other infections.

But in early 2017, he succumbed to a nasty bug which left him feverish for two weeks and brought on a discharge of pus from one ear.

He recovered, but all was not well. One morning, while having breakfast with his brother-in-law, he suddenly could not see.

"I applied Eye Mo and thought my eyesight would come back after a while but it didn't," says the 47-year-old.

It was the start of a nightmare, one which lasted more than a year and resulted in the amputation of both his legs and several fingers.

It took months and countless painful tests before doctors determined that Mr Hasri was suffering from vasculitis, a large group of diseases caused by inflammation of blood vessels.

Instead of languishing over his fate, Mr Hasri - who has regained about 40 per cent of his vision after his amputations - is up and about on his two prosthetic legs, inspiring and encouraging those who have been dealt a similar fate.

He reckons he should do something meaningful since this is not the first time he has cheated death.

A man with a colourful resume, he's had at least three close shaves - once during the Sars outbreak in 2003, when he was diagnosed with the virus.

Affable and chatty, Mr Hasri is the youngest of five children. A couple of years after he was born, his parents divorced and his mother moved to Johor.

Mr Hasri and his siblings grew up with their father, a retired public health inspector, and their paternal grandparents. He has fond memories of his childhood and adolescence, although life was not easy. For several years, the family lived cheek by jowl in a two-room rental flat in Bedok South.

To contribute to the family income (his father moonlighted as a security supervisor at night to make ends meet), the former student of Bedok View Secondary School started working at 15, as a part-time banquet waiter at the former Le Meridien hotel in Changi.

"The hotel was like my second home. I worked there every evening and went home only once a week," he says.

After completing his O levels, he signed up with the Singapore Police Force in 1998. His first posting was to Bedok Police Station.

The job exposed him to the darker and sadder side of life including drugs, suicides and unnatural deaths. "I remember being dispatched to the scene of a suicide one afternoon during fasting month. A man had jumped from a block of flats. It was my first time seeing a dead body. I couldn't sleep that night," he says.

Mr Hasri was in law enforcement for more than a decade, and served stints at Tanglin Police Station, the Traffic Police and Special Operations Command unit.

One of the most sobering moments of his police career came when he and his colleagues arrested two culprits involved in the fatal stabbing of a taxi driver in a cemetery. One of them was a primary school friend.

"He recognised me. My heart sank. It was all for drugs and money. I really hated drugs after that. I went all out, sometimes undercover, to bust drug addicts."

After leaving the police force, he worked at a variety of jobs.

For a couple of years, he was a technical assistant at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), working in its mortuary and helping pathologists with autopsies.

There were no spooky encounters, he says. "But I was told that I should always ask for permission before handling corpses. And that I should never open a body bag from the top because you don't know what sort of face will greet you."

In 2003, when Sars broke out, he had a major scare when he was quarantined for a week during a screening at TTSH.

After that, he was told to stay indoors for another 10 days.

"I guess I was very blessed. I had mild symptoms," he says of the severe form of pneumonia which infected 238 and killed 33 people in Singapore.

"I don't know how I contracted it, probably from handling corpses," adds Mr Hasri, who left TTSH shortly after the episode.

He thought being a shipping officer would put him out of harm's way but he thought wrong. One day during the monsoon season, he set out in a small boat to get some documents signed by someone on a big tanker. To get on the vessel, he had to, he recalls, climb a long gangway.

"Going up was okay but coming down was scary because the sea was very choppy. My boat came, so did a big wave and I missed the last step. The boat went under but luckily I held on tight to the gangway. If not, I would have gone down with the boat and disappeared into the currents," he says with a shudder.

Back on land, he then spent a couple of years as a garbage truck driver. At night, he moonlighted as a stage hand at Crazy Horse Paris, the now defunct cabaret in Clarke Quay featuring performances by topless or scantily clad dancers.

His next job was a lot less risque but a lot more risky: he became a tower crane operator.

He operated cranes, from a height, to lift huge concrete slabs and other building materials on construction sites.

One day in February 2008, he was slated to be the tower crane operator on a construction project at the National University Of Singapore. Because of a change in the roster, he was replaced by a colleague who died, along with two other workers, when the 60m, 72-tonne crane toppled.

Wincing at the memory, Mr Hasri points to Madam Radzeyah Saat, his then girlfriend and now wife, and says: "After that, she forbade me to go up a tower crane anymore. It was just too risky."

So it was back to the job market again, and he finally found a position as an operations executive at Vobis, one of Singapore's largest dormitory operators.

On Nov 10, 2012 ("10-11-12"), he married Madam Radzeyah, 35, who works in a financial advisory firm.

Just when Mr Hasri thought life was humming along nicely, he had to grapple with one of the biggest physical, emotional and psychological challenges of his life.

The months following his admission to Changi General Hospital when he went blind were horrifying, he says. "The doctors had no idea what happened to me. They ran so many tests - you name it, I've had it - on me," he says.

 

To make matters worse, his fingers and toes started to turn black, and in time, emitted a foul stench.

"It was agonising. The nights were the worst. My fingers and toes felt as though they were being bitten. The doctors told my wife to be prepared. She stayed with me the whole time," he says.

He grew so desperate that he moved to live with his mother in Johor Baru for a month. He tried alternative medicine but it did not help.

Back in Singapore, his wife had him transferred to Singapore General Hospital, where he was again subjected to a battery of tests over several months before he was diagnosed with vasculitis.

Doctors then told him five of his fingers (three on the left hand, two on the right) and both his lower legs would have to be amputated.

"They suggested amputating the fingers first, and the legs later. I told them: 'No. If you have to do it, do it all at once. I don't want to suffer twice.'"

The operation left him short-fused and in a deep funk. He'd just lie in bed, refusing to receive visitors. "I felt it was better to be gone than to be alive. How would I face my community, the world and reality? I felt I was no longer a man."

Fortunately, good sense prevailed. "One night, I asked myself: 'What if God said I had to be around for the next 30 years?' I decided that as long as I was alive, I had to bounce back," says Mr Hasri.

And he did. The next day, he shocked everyone by attacking the exercise machines, bare-bodied.

He told his wife as well as the hospital staff that come hell or high water, he wanted to walk again.

With the help of her colleagues, Madam Radzeyah raised funds to get her husband prosthetic legs from The Prosthetic Company, a social enterprise specialising in prosthetics and orthotics services.

Mr Hasri, whose hospital bills were covered by his insurance company, went through rehabilitation at Bright Vision Hospital. He was fitted with his prosthetic legs in January last year.

"When I put them on, I felt as though I was flying," he says.

The company's co-founder Desmond Lim, 43, says he was amazed by Mr Hasri's positivity and resolve.

"It usually takes about a year for someone who's had bilateral leg amputations to start walking again with prosthetics. He started walking, although just for a few minutes, almost as soon as he got his limbs. It's even more amazing considering he is also visually impaired," Mr Lim says.

Convinced that positivity is infectious, Mr Hasri now spends a lot of time encouraging amputees he meets at Mr Lim's company as well as patients at Bright Vision and Blossom Seeds, a charity that helps the elderly.

"I don't want to be idle. I want to contribute. I want to inspire others and motivate them to walk again and tell them 'Nothing is impossible'," says the amiable man who hopes to be able to work again soon.

He is also hoping to raise funds for other amputees including his friend Natarajan Gopalasamy Rengarajan (who is featured in the video blurb).

"He had a stroke which affected the nerves in his limbs. He is only 51, and has three children who are still schooling. His wife works as a hospital porter. He is inspired by me and I really want to see him stand up and walk again, like I did."

Smiling bashfully, Mr Hasri has a dream. "I want to appear on a TV charity programme to raise funds for people to walk again. I hope to pull a car with a rope, wearing my prosthetics."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 17, 2019, with the headline ''I felt I was no longer a man''. Subscribe