Todd Schwartz 2015-02-10 20:19:55
Moses Chan thought he’d never hold his son’s hand again. A local Lion, along with her club, zone and a widening circle of generous people, thought differently. For the first three of the four billion years that life has existed on Earth, the single-celled microorganisms that were the ancestors of modern bacteria dominated the planet. In many ways they still do. Every gram of soil contains some 40 million bacteria, and the biomass of Earth’s bacteria greatly exceeds the weight of its plants and animals. There are tens of trillions of different types of bacteria living in and on your body. Many are vital. Most are harmless. Some, like certain strains of A Streptococcus, can be deadly. Around Christmas in 2011, a few million of them tried to kill Moses Chan. Born in Hong Kong, Chan came with his family to Canada when he was 5 years old. Now 39, Chan is a single father with sole custody of his 7-yearold son, Myles. He was a very busy guy living in Vancouver, British Columbia, when an infection sent him to the emergency room. The following day he collapsed and went into a coma that would last nearly two weeks. Doctors, who never could discover how he got the infection, fought a life-and-death battle with the bacteria. They won, but in the process Chan’s hands and feet literally died while still attached to his body. A quadruple amputation followed. With his hands and feet lost, Chan stayed in the hospital for six months, wondering what else was gone. “I thought I’d just lay in bed for the rest of my life,” he says. “I didn’t know how I would take care of my son, how I would live, how I could work. What kind of father could I be?” That proved to be the key. At the top of the list of the many things Chan now couldn’t do, for Myles' sake, was to give up. Over the next incredibly difficult 18 months, Chan left the hospital, was fitted with prosthetic legs and hooks for hands, and tried valiantly to adjust to his new life. He learned to drive again. He learned to get through the day and be hopeful about tomorrow. But his prosthetics, particularly the hooks, created a wall between him and most people. “People would stare at my hooks all the time,” Chan remembers. “They would never look me in the eye.” There were much better solutions available—more natural-looking myoelectric hands with fingers that open and close cued by muscle movements in what remains of the amputee’s arm. The problem, of course, was money. These high-tech prosthetics range from $35,000 to as much as $60,000 per hand. Maintenance and repair cost thousands more. Chan didn’t have anything like that kind of resources, and even the generous Canadian health system that had paid for all of his hospital care didn’t extend to such very expensive assists for a very small number of hand-amputee citizens. For months, Chan’s friends encouraged him to go public, to fundraise for support for a better set of hands. Eventually he agreed, and a local news station picked up the story. That’s how Lucy Chan-Ng (no relation) heard about the single father who needed help. A Vancouver event and wedding planner, a 20-year Lion and, by all accounts something of a dynamo, Chan- Ng was deeply moved by Chan’s plight. “I was speechless,” she remembers. “The trouble he had gone through, a single father, a brave person— I wanted to bring this to the full attention of the Chinese community. I wanted to see what I could do personally, and what our club, the Richmond-Chinatown Lions could do.” Chan-Ng knew her club couldn’t raise enough money by itself, so she began taking Chan around to the clubs in her zone. She organized events including one featuring a famous former Hong Kong movie star. She made call after call. The club’s Tailtwister, Chan-Ng knew a thing or two about cajoling and persuading. Moses Chan’s cause eventually evolved into a zone project. By the fall of 2013, more than $100,000 had been raised by the powerful combination of the Richmond- Chinatown Lions, churches in Vancouver and Toronto, and many television viewers who had seen the story. “I was so surprised that the world was full of people who were so generous and selfless,” Chan says. “Before this, I didn’t believe that was the case. But there is a lot of compassion and hope out there.” In October of 2013, Chan sat nervously in a room at Award Prosthetics, a Burnaby, British Columbia, company that has been serving amputees for nearly two decades. The procedure was painless. The prosthetist expertly replaced the hook prosthetic on Chan’s right arm with a new myoelectric hand. The extraordinary moment signaled a real turning point in Chan’s comeback from the quadruple amputation—as well as the start of another steep learning curve in his life. Happy endings don’t just happen. Blood, sweat and tears often precede them. “The hand,” Chan explains, “is controlled by movements of residual muscles in my arm. Opening and closing the hand was a brand new skill, like learning to play a musical instrument. Learning to relax my arm properly is a factor. Sometimes the hand still opens when I don’t want it to! Using the hand is like learning to play the piano, and I hit a bad note or two once in a while.” But on that first day, and on each day since, the grace note Chan enjoys most is the ability to hold his son’s hand. “What has surprised me,” Chan points out, “is what I can do, not what I can’t. To be able to go home, take care of my son, go to work, is amazing.” “It’s not like the movies,” says Award Prosthetics founder Tony van der Waarde, a prosthetist for 40 years. “You don’t just suddenly have a fully functional new hand. The fit to the amputee’s body [the interface that van der Waarde is a master at creating] is an ongoing process of refining and tweaking,” he says. To operate the hand, Chan must pre-plan, then think of the muscle movement he wants, and concentrate on that muscle alone. The hands need maintenance regularly, parts wear out at random times, and the hands must be replaced every five or six years. The electric motors mean that the prosthetic can’t get wet. And prosthetics usually weigh more than the original limb, so the rest of the body can get very fatigued. “There’s a lot to learn. But the technology is evolving every day, and prosthetics will get better and better,” says van de Waarde. Better and better is already the course of Chan’s progress. He will soon add a second myo-electric hand on his left side. He is becoming more adjusted to the slower pace of life that prosthetics dictate. “It takes a long time to do pretty simple things,” he says. But he still has found time for a new commitment: he joined the Richmond- Chinatown Lions. “The Lions inspired me to have a heart of giving,” says Chan, who answers the phones as a public information employee for the city of Vancouver. “I was moved by their generosity and action on my behalf, and I hope I can help others in the future. I will work with amputees and also support whatever the club is passionate about. I’m learning how to be a good Lion now.” “The person is the key to building a new life,” says van der Waarde. “The prosthetics we supply are important, but the person’s attitude is far more important. That’s where the strength comes from.” Chan knows his comeback will be a process that never ends. He will need to raise funds for new hands in a few years. There will be new technologies and new techniques. Things will break, things will be difficult. But he will always reach for more—and for his son’s hand. “Losing limbs doesn’t have to change who you are,” new Lion Chan concludes. “What counts is what is in your head and in your heart.”
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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