Spirit of Hong Kong

Stroke leaves athlete damaged but defiant

Martha Ng thought her life was over after her coma and stint in hospital. Throwing herself into exercise, she's proved the opposite is true

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 5:00am

Martha Ng Hoi-kei bounces out of the exercise room with such energy that it takes me a moment to realise she's the subject of the interview. She looks like an athlete - and is one - having come back from a stroke that left her in a coma for several days and permanently damaged her brain.

The stroke came straight after Ng graduated from university, and she was devastated, feeling that her life was over.

That was in 2007. These days when she walks she has to be careful how quickly she turns her head, so as not to become dizzy, which can make her fall. She goes for regular check-ups and knows that the damage in her brain - an innate cerebrovascular malformation - means that she could suffer a stroke again at any time.

It's why she lives each day to the full, encouraging others with disabilities to exercise as much as they can. She doesn't look disabled, but she is.

Yet it doesn't stop her training hard for Oxfam's annual 100-kilometre Trailwalker and regularly playing team sports, including basketball for her alma mater, Pui Kiu Secondary School in Tin Hau.

Ng, 33, has shown immense courage in driving herself through acute and constant pain to retrain her body to function.

"After the stroke, on the Gold Coast in Australia, I thought I would be spending the rest of my life in the hospital," Ng wrote in a publication put out by the Regeneration Society.

"I cried countless times, filled with hate and anger. I felt that the whole world owed me something. At that time, I was extremely depressed and angry, frustrated."

She underwent a number of operations and began a long process of recovery. She envisaged the triangle over the bed she used to pull herself into a sitting position was a windsurfer mast to motivate herself. She forced herself to eat, even though she would often vomit.

"I also taught myself to speak by reading out loud from newspapers," she says. "At first my breathing was not in sync. I used a wheelchair and had the nurse's assistance. I fell often and had many injuries but I insisted that I continue to practice and learn."

These days Ng works as an insurance agent for MassMutual Financial and also volunteers for a number of organisations involved in helping people with disabilities or brain illnesses. They include Neuro United, and Hong Kong Rehabilitation Power. At Hong Kong Rehabilitation Power, she leads an exercise class for people with disabilities.

At the moment, she's training three times a day for Trailwalker, and has medals to show for other athletic achievements. She loves playing basketball, but now no longer has the co-ordination to catch balls or throw them into the net. Instead she's redefined her skills and become an excellent dribbler. The future will always be uncertain in terms of Ng's health, but she doesn't allow that to hold her back. In fact, it makes her value each day all the more.

She told the Regeneration Society: "With some organisations that work with the disabled, I am a committee member, treasurer, volunteer - where I want to work on getting disabled people equal opportunities in this city. As such, I hope disabled people will join together and create a beautiful future, and embrace their full potential."