Mum's ballet promise kept little Li Yue alive through quake agony

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 May, 2009, 12:00am

A mother's promise kept 12-year-old Li Yue going through the darkest 70 hours of the Sichuan girl's life, as she lay buried in the cruel debris of last year's magnitude 8 earthquake.

Now the strong will of her mother, Li Jiaxiu , sustains the girl's pursuit of her dream to dance - although she lost her left leg in the quake. Just before the killer quake, Ms Li had promised to send Li Yue to ballet class when she reached Primary Five this year.

That promise became Li Yue's mantra as she lay trapped under the debris of Beichuan primary school with six classmates crushed below her. 'I told myself as long as I survive, I can dance,' she said.

But when the rescue team found her, they had no choice but to remove her left leg below the knee at the scene - with just two shots of painkiller. Two further amputations removed her entire left leg.

'I have so many regrets about my little girl because I cannot keep my promise to send her to ballet class,' said her mother, 45, while watching her dancing wheelchair ballet on the stage with other dancers in Hong Kong yesterday, at Kwun Tong's APM shopping mall. The two were among four pairs of mothers and children invited to Hong Kong as part of a campaign to raise funds to provide artificial limbs for quake victims.

Ms Li said she was keen to 'make it up to her daughter' by supporting her dancing dream because she had not been at her daughter's side during the quake or the first two amputations. 'I was running a Sichuan restaurant in Xinjiang and was unable to return immediately,' she said.

A single mother, Ms Li only managed to get back to Sichuan four days after the quake.

'My daughter dreamed of becoming a ballet dancer but because we are of Qiang ethnicity, I sent her to learn Qiang folk dance instead when she was seven,' she said.

'Last year, her teacher said Yue was talented in ballet, so I promised I would send her to ballet class in September this year.'

But the earthquake intervened - a subject that brings out Ms Li's stoically pragmatic side. 'It's worth exchanging a leg for a life,' she said.

Li Yue had her third amputation in Beijing in July. And just three weeks later, then 11-year-old Li Yue performed a wheelchair ballet with a group of deaf dancers at the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games in August - despite the lingering, acute pain of her wounds.

'I am so proud of my little girl,' Ms Li said yesterday. She closed her restaurant in Xinjiang to care for Li Yue full-time and has since taken her to ballet practice, performances and charity events.

Now, on the eve of Mother's Day, Li Yue said the love of her mother kept her going. 'As Mother's Day is coming, I would like to say: 'I love you' to my mama,' she said. 'I will study hard and live happily because I know it's the best reward to people who love me.'

The earthquake claimed 11 in Ms Li's family, including her mother.

Mother and daughter are both supported by the generosity of donors, but Ms Li said she wanted to make her own living. She is now planning to borrow money to start a small restaurant in Beijing.

Despite their suffering, self-reliance is the dream shared by all the 'quake mums'. Yang Lan, 31, also in Hong Kong with her daughter, lost both her legs and her husband in the quake. 'I should thank God because my three-year-old daughter still has her mother. I hope I can stand up again and be capable of looking after my girl by myself,' the wheelchair-bound mother said.