When George See Kok Wah suffered a stroke over four years ago, it seemed that life would be all downhill for him at age 41. His right hand was paralysed and he experienced weakness on the right side of his body, which also affected his foot and ankle.
The former factory supervisor had been working in the Philippines for three years when he suffered the stroke on Oct 19, 2010.
He was devastated by its effects, which included speech and hearing loss.
He was wheelchair-bound for two years but physiotherapy helped him walk again. These days, George wears a corrective ankle-foot orthosis, a brace on the lower leg and foot.
Initially, he was full of anger and tended to lash out. These days, he has accepted his situation and is taking pains to improve himself, including learning sign language for communication.
George, the youngest of five siblings, now lives in a nursing home near the National Stroke Association of Malaysia (Nasam) in Petaling Jaya. He goes to Nasam regularly for physiotheraphy, as well as sign language and art lessons.
His eldest brother Kok Cheong and older sister Chian Ting share the cost of the nursing home; their mother is too old to take care of him and they could not hire anyone to look after him.
“After his stroke, George was hospitalised for one and a half months in Makati, Manila. I flew there to accompany him home after his discharge,” said Kok Cheong, who lives in Klang, Selangor. “I visit him as often as I can, sometimes a few times a week or once a month.”
“He is two different persons before and after the stroke. He has a better temperament now and no worries,” said Kok Cheong.
The left-hander now produces artworks which help him earn pocket money. Nasam also allows him to sell his pieces at its annual fun fair, the most recent one being its Life After Stroke fundraiser, showcase and celebration at Taman Jaya in Petaling Jaya.
“George was wheelchair-bound when he first came to Nasam in 2010 and had weakness on the right side of his body. Prior to his stroke, he had complained of chest pain,” said S. Yashitha Devi, 29, rehabilitation therapist in charge at Nasam.
After physiotherapy, he started to walk again in 2013 and also began drawing. After Nasam staff saw his drawings, the association promoted them at its 2013 fun fair.
Yashitha said George was hot-tempered when he came to Nasam and refused to be touched or helped. “He wanted to do things by himself,” she said. “Now, he even encourages other stroke survivors in Nasam to walk. When he did not need his wheelchair anymore, he started walking with a cane. Now he can he walk without it and has a better gait.”
Sign language volunteer teacher Lynn Lee, 57, has been teaching George at Nasam for the last two years. She noted that although slow in learning it, he has shown interest and made progress.
Volunteer art teacher Alice Chan, 63, met George last year and coached him on art techniques and usage of materials. She said his art skills have improved.
When she first tutored him in art, she noticed that he would buy colouring books and colour in the outlines of drawings.
“I showed him paintings and art materials which could enhance his art, including quality art paper. I showed him art books and also took him to the library to borrow books to get new ideas,” said Chan, a former sales executive who now lives abroad but helps out at Nasam whenever she is back in Malaysia.
She has also taken him to shop for stationery such as art paper and colour pencils.
They started communicating by writing on paper with two words, yes and no. When their friendship bloomed, Chan said George opened up more to her.
Two years since arriving at the nursing home and occasionally kicking up a fuss, George seems to be over his disability now and has adapted to his new lifestyle. He is happy-go-lucky and constantly honing his art skills.
He was delighted to learn that Star2.com wanted to do a video shoot of him, he was cooperative and began a sign language demonstration with Lee. He smiled impishly when he could not keep pace with Lee, who slowed down so he could catch up. A short introduction on a whiteboard helped him follow her signing.
Realising that George could not hear and talk, we indicated through gestures that we wanted him to show us his artwork, and his Nasam friends eagerly took them out of his file folder.
He was all too pleased to demonstrate his art with some coaxing from Nasam communications coordinator Vanaja Dhanan. He even drew us some floral art as a keepsake!
Later, George was clearly thrilled to view a video clip of his artwork on a smartphone. He grinned broadly, lapping up the thrill of seeing his art up on YouTube, even though he could not hear the accompanying catchy music.