Medical student sees hope in her disability

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 August, 2007, 12:00am

Chinese University's first wheelchair-bound medical student, Jennifer Lui Wai-cheung, aims to become Hong Kong's first disabled neurosurgeon and believes her disability could give her an edge when understanding patients' problems.

The 19-year-old science-stream student will begin her studies at the Faculty of Medicine next month. She received five As and three Bs in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination and two As, two Bs and one C at A level.

'Doctors can help people in the front line. Their encouragement means a lot to patients who feel depressed,' said Ms Lui, who has wanted to be a doctor since she was a child.

After a normal childhood, her life changed dramatically in August 2004. 'When I was having a first-aid lesson that summer, I suddenly felt a sharp pain on my back,' she said.

She was immediately sent to hospital and was found to have a spinal haemorrhage. Her spinal cord was injured and she has been paralysed from the waist down ever since. At the time, she was only 16. 'I cried a lot at night. It was a severe blow to me,' said Ms Lui, who had played for the school's basketball team from Form One to Form Four.

She said doctors did not know why her injury had occurred.

Her father, Lui Shing-yuk, sent her to Xuan Wu Hospital and Beijing Bo Ai Hospital in China's capital for further treatment. 'I saw many spinal patients there. Some of them could not control their hands. Although I can no longer walk, I can still move my hands. That's still far better, so I told myself not to give up.'

She came back in July 2005 to continue her studies in Form Six at the Holy Trinity College in Shek Kip Mei while receiving follow-up treatment.

She has had fears her disability could prevent her from doing rounds in wards, but doctors told her that although there might be some constraints, she would do well in her studies because of her interest.

It also struck her that she could have an edge over able-bodied doctors as she could more easily empathise with patients who had similar problems.

'Spinal patients often have problems with excretion but many find it embarrassing to tell doctors about it. But if I were a doctor, they would probably find it easier talking to me,' she said.

As she will be staying in a university residence, she said she would learn how to get about on her own, like the other students.

The dean of the faculty of medicine, Fok Tai-fai, said any facilities that Ms Lui found inconvenient would be upgraded.