Jason Leong, 42, had been an educator for close to 13 years. Athletic, active and strong, he was good at his craft and also an involved family man to his loving wife Ruth-Ann, 36, and his two young children Elyse Ann, 8, and Evan Levi, 6.
In April 2019, life as he knew it would change.
"I was dying, fast."
"On the morning of 3 April 2019, I began to have chills and developed a fever of 41 degrees Celsius by the time I got sent home to rest.
"That very evening, I noticed traces of blood in my urine and I headed to the hospital with my wife to get it checked. It was about midnight when the doctor examined me, and by then, my fingers, toes and lips had turned blue. Drifting in and out of consciousness, I was immediately admitted to the ICU," Jason recalled.
Jason’s doctors scampered to find out what was wrong and how to treat him. By afternoon the next day, Jason had fallen into a coma and his liver, lungs and kidneys had begun to fail.
The doctors later found that a common bacteria that usually caused sore throats had entered his bloodstream and was wreaking havoc in his body.
"I was dying, fast. Even though they were trying their best to save me, the doctors started preparing my family for the worst."
Disbelief and shock
“I was shell shocked,” Ruth said, “I couldn't believe that within 12 hours of us going to hospital, the doctors were asking me to get ready to say my goodbyes.”
“All I could think about then was that I was going to lose my best friend. Some days I just held the kids and cried with them. We never stopped praying for a miraculous intervention.”
By then, word of Jason’s condition had rallied prayers from friends and even strangers all around the world in hope of a miracle. The miracle did come.
The doctors, in a last-ditch attempt to save Jason, tried an antibiotic that he was supposedly allergic to and it worked. Jason awoke and regained consciousness from his coma around midday on 5 April 2019.
Despite this miraculous turn of events, Ruth and Jason were about to face their biggest obstacle yet.
A struggle for recovery
The next few weeks continued to be a confusing time for Jason and Ruth. Although Jason was recovering, the infection had ravaged his body.
He went on to endure more than 10 operations to amputate his toes, foot, lower legs and fingers due to gangrene. Two toes from his left feet were also grafted on his right hand to preserve its use.
Struggling to come to terms with the overwhelming sense of loss of his body parts and his identity, he started experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks.
In late June 2019, it became medically necessary to amputate his right foot and later on in November, his left foot.
It was a very difficult time for Jason.
“I was literally on the chopping board; bits of me chopped off, bit by bit. Everything I thought I was good at – as a husband, a father, a man – was flung out of the window.”
Ruth also went through a period of intense grieving.
“I realised that life would never be the same again. I grieved, but I knew that in order for me to support him and our family, I needed to be emotionally and physically well, so I sought out a trauma counsellor to help me process my emotions.”
Everything I thought I was good at – as a husband, a father, a man – was flung out of the window.
This is their inspiring story of how they supported each other.
What was Ruth’s role throughout your crisis and the initial periods of recovery?
Jason: Ruth was the caregiver and pillar of strength as I was trying to make sense of things and grapple with difficult questions. There were moments when I was so lost that I kept asking her what this meant for us and what was happening. She assured me that even though she didn't have all the answers, she would journey with me together. She gave me space to express my emotions and she would just hold me and cry with me.
What were some of the main changes and how did you navigate these?
Jason: I used to be the guy who did the heavy lifting (literally) and fixed things around the house. I also enjoyed rough play with the kids and saw myself as the leader and protector of the family.
With the physical disability came the need to receive care instead of giving it. Ruth would take on the role of fixing and carrying things but still allowed me to lead by consulting me so I could give inputs on how things were done (e.g. how to fix a light bulb). Though the role seemed small, it allowed me to contribute to the family.
With the kids, we are so blessed to have a village to support us. Both sets of grandparents would play various roles so that the kids’ schedules were not disrupted. We set up a schedule so our good friends could bring our kids out or have them over for playdates so Ruth could accompany me in the hospital (I was there for 4 months).
Ruth, how did you purpose in your heart to help Jason through this crisis? What were the obstacles and how did you overcome?
I resolved to build him up in word and action. In word, by affirming every little effort he took. In action, by finding ways for him to engage in things that are important to him.
I know family is very much on his heart, so we arranged for the kids to sleep over in the hospital on Friday nights so that we could spend time together as a family.
It was hard seeing the man I had known to be so strong suddenly become so weak and helpless. Some days I felt very alone, as if I had to bear the weight of the whole family on my shoulders. There were days that I also felt trapped having to care for 3 individuals (the hubby and 2 young kids) and wondered if the rest of my life would pan out that way.
While on our 6-month long family hiatus in Canada, I was struck by how each season was so beautiful yet different and bore fruit specific to that season. I soon learned to let go of my need for control and embrace the season we were in, recognising that it could bring forth fruit in my life, marriage and family and knowing also that 'this too shall pass'. Hence, I focused on doing my best for the next task ahead. Most importantly, I also learned how to ask for and receive help.
We don't do different things, we just do things differently.
Was Ruth’s support instrumental to your recovery process?
Jason: Instead of mollycoddling me, Ruth would give help when it was needed, but when she assessed that I was ready, she would think of how we could move forward so that I could be more independent.
For example, when I was still struggling to regain fine motor control, she would put money in a pouch and encourage me to go out for a cup of coffee. It was initially humbling to have to ask for help from stallholders but also liberating to be able to buy my own food.
With Ruth asking for my opinions and involving me in the family's activities, I could regain my confidence. While I could not physically protect my family, they still respected me and valued my presence.
Ruth knows how to celebrate the little things. When things were so bleak initially, she would find the smallest things to laugh about.
She would say, “We don't do different things, we just do things differently.” Instead of roller blading with my son, she would encourage my son to use my motorised wheelchair as his train and zoom around our void deck.
She is like an anchor. She held the family together while I was unable to. She also held space for me to continue in my role as father and head of the household.
Ruth, what are your hopes for the journey ahead?
I hope that Jason would keep taking the next step forward – for now it's relearning how to walk, and hopefully to drive and eventually do sports again.
I also hope for him to continue finding purpose and joy each day. I can't see 10 years down the road but if we're not dead then life's not over.
I am truly in awe of the man that I married – his inner resolve to keep growing stronger physically even when it hurts, to take care of me and to keep on engaging the kids is priceless. I see a man determined to fight for life, for his marriage and for his family.
© 2020 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
Tracey Or is a full time mother of six, part-time dreamer and writer at her blog, Memoirs of a Budget Mum. Those who know her well knows she gets through life with a good joke, coffee and the occasional Netflix.
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