Shahril's not throwing in the towel

Ex-boxer shows fighting spirit in struggle to pull out of brain injury

THE REPORT WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE STRAITS TIMES ON NOV 2, 2013

Shahril Salim's boxing shorts hang proudly on the wall above the bed he is now forced to lie on 24 hours a day.

Bearing his name, they are a reminder of the night the 22-year-old was supposed to make his debut in a show at Marina Bay Sands one year ago.

As it turned out, the fight night went ahead without him.

Instead of listening to the roar of the crowd and boxing for glory, Shahril was hooked up to a raft of machines in the Singapore General Hospital's intensive care unit after suffering a serious brain injury during one of his final sparring sessions.

Twelve months later, the former ITE College East student's struggle continues.

"Some doctors told us that he was on the verge of dying and that they had done everything that they could," explained his brother Jufri, who takes care of Shahril along with his wife Surayah Akbar, their three children and a maid in a three-room Housing Board flat in New Upper Changi Road.

"But he kept fighting and can still respond to us. He can't talk but he can raise his hands to answer a question or blink his eyes.

"We ask him if he wants to carry on and he always says 'yes'.

"He is inside his body but can't get out and we will help him for as long as it takes."

Shahril has undergone repeated surgery since the injury and has spent time in various hospitals.

At first, the mood was optimistic as he began to respond to treatment, which included physiotherapy to stimulate his senses.

Although progress was slow, Shahril seemed to be heading in the right direction and even appeared on the verge of being able to speak again at the start of the year. He was allowed back home on several occasions but kept being re-admitted due to infections.

Much of that early optimism has now disappeared, along with any hopes of a swift recovery.

Currently, he is too ill to go outside, has to be fed through a tube in his nose and cannot move most of his body.

His family have been told that there is no way of knowing if the situation will ever improve.

Jufri - the lead singer of Singapore-based rock band Kraton - said despite the bleak outlook, he was pleased to have his younger sibling back home again.

"He is in a loving environment now with friends and family around and we hope that positive energy can help him to get better," he said of his brother, who has dropped from 70kg to 50kg.

"We like to joke around in front of him so that he feels as normal as possible and he enjoys it."

However, Jufri admits there have been dark times too.

He said the family have wondered if it would have been better if Shahril had simply been taken from them peacefully instead of lingering in his present state.

"It hurts every one of us to see him like this but this is what fate has dealt us," said the trainee sound engineer, while struggling to hold back tears.

"We have all cried but we can't be sad, we just have to be practical. What right have we got to think about him dying when he wants to fight on?"

Despite the challenging predicament they now find themselves in, it is not the first hardship the boys have been through together. They were orphaned as children - along with four other siblings - and Shahril, who was the youngest, took the loss the hardest.

Those feelings eventually led to the former shop assistant taking up boxing in a bid to try and make something of himself.

Yet, despite another cruel blow being inflicted on his brother, Jufri said he does not hold any bad feelings towards the sport or anyone involved in the incident.

"Shahril wanted to do it, and maybe if he hadn't been injured, then it could have been even worse for him or his opponent," said the 30-year-old.

"He has a stubborn fighting spirit, as he has shown since suffering this.

"Ultimately, he has brought our family closer together and made us all better people by being able to help him."

Jufri keeps well-wishers informed of Shahril's progress on the Wake The Bull Facebook page, named after the moniker he intended to use in the ring.

Unfortunately, the news has not been as good as everyone had hoped for.

With a long fight on the horizon, Jufri said his family are refusing to give up hope.

"We dream that maybe he can become a little bit more independent, maybe he can have a motorised wheelchair in the future," he added.

"Medically, there is little more that can be done for him. Now, we are just praying for a miracle."

jturner@sph.com.sg