Amputee Jenny Pong is one amazing woman. Life has dealt her some harsh blows but she remains undaunted.

When I first met Jenny Pong last month, I was awed by her appearance. But when I got to know her better, I was indeed humbled by her determination to succeed in the face of adversity. 

If life treated her harshly, she didn’t show it. She always wears a smile on her face. Her favourite line is: “You can lose your limbs, but you cannot lose your smile.”

Although we are both 48 years old, Jenny stressed that she is two months older than me, and hence I should call her che che (sister). She joked that she is like a six-month-old baby because she has just learnt to crawl.

Jenny came from very humble beginnings. She grew up in a small village in Perak. Her dilapidated house had no electricity or water supply then. Her parents raised chicken and grew their own vegetables to feed their brood of seven children. Jenny learnt responsibility early in life and by the age of seven, she was helping her mother to grow and sell vegetables to support the family.

Jenny stopped schooling when she was 12 to assume additional responsibilities for the family. She washed dishes at a local restaurant and worked at a karaoke joint as a teenager to help supplement the family income.

Jenny married when she was 18. She was looking forward to becoming a first-time mother but when her twin daughters were stillborn, she was heartbroken. A few days after she returned from the hospital, Jenny felt very weak; she had a post-natal viral infection. 

She got up in the night to go to the toilet, but collapsed. When her mother found her in the morning, Jenny realised that she had lost sensation in the lower part of her body. Her parents took her to the hospital and Jenny was admitted to the intensive care unit. She slipped into a coma and remained in that state for two years. Jenny’s husband gave up on her and walked out of the marriage.

When Jenny came out of her coma, she was faced with another hurdle – gangrene had set in and her legs had to be amputated.

When Jenny eventually recovered from the surgery, she had to drag herself, in a prone position, to attend to the daily chores. Her younger brother made a wooden trolley for her to move around with greater ease. Jenny lies on her stomach and uses her hands to manoeuvre the trolley.

Learning to get used to her new vantage point, which is about two feet off the ground, was not easy. Jenny went through mood swings and faced moments of great despair. During the times when she was feeling down, Jenny’s mother played a vital role in offering physical and emotional support. She was a pillar of strength to Jenny. 

With the support of her family, Jenny eventually came around and was able to see the world in a more positive light. She adapted to her new life with pride and dignity, and slowly regained her independence.

Jenny even learnt to cook by placing the stove on the floor. In fact, she can whip up delightful Nyonya dishes.

Jenny has an enterprising streak and has tried her hand at making various crafts to earn some income.

She started off by making paper paraphernalia for Taoist funerals. For two decades, Jenny folded paper shoes; she only stopped due to overexposure to toxic fumes from the glue. Then Jenny turned to weaving baskets but discontinued upon the doctor’s advice. The bamboo strips occasionally pricked her fingers and that was not good for a diabetic like her.

After that Jenny switched to knitting pom-poms for keychains and tissue boxes but had to stop after doctors explained to her that the wool fibres, when inhaled, might complicate her heart condition.

Presently, Jenny earns some income from giving motivational talks. She has shared her life story with single mothers and children in orphanages.

Jenny’s struggles in the face of adversity has not gone unnoticed. She was conferred the Pingat Jasa Kebaktian (PJK) by the Sultan of Perak in 1998. Jenny has been featured in Portraits of Perseverance, an ongoing multimedia community project which features Malaysian women who persevere in the face of chronic illnesses and disabilities. Recently Jenny was awarded in a Corporate Social Responsibility programme in a joint effort between DKSH Malaysia and Medinova, a Swiss company.

Besides diabetes and a heart condition, Jenny also has to contend with kidney disease and leukaemia.

I can’t help but admire Jenny for making the most of the little she has. She even recycles her diapers many times over as she knows money is hard to come by. Jenny has thought me to look at life differently. It’s not so much what you have that counts, but what you make of what you have.

>> Beyond Barriers is a platform for sharing and raising awareness on disability issues. We welcome contributions from readers who have a disability or any special needs, caregivers, advocates of disability groups, or anyone living with any chronic medical condition. 

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