SINGAPORE: Former technician Tan Whee Boon used to rely on his hands to make a living. But life took a dramatic turn after doctors had to amputate all his limbs about five months ago.
Three days after Mr Tan, 50, ate a plate of yusheng - a raw fish dish - he found himself in hospital, where he drifted in and out of consciousness for about two weeks, before finding out that his hands and feet had turned gangrenous due to a drug that helped save his life.
Reports say initial investigations revealed that Group B Streptococcus (GBS) was one of three types of bacteria present in Mr Tan's body. Authorities had also found traces of GBS in raw fish samples in July as they probed a spike in GBS cases.
Months on, however, doctors are still unable to pinpoint what exactly caused Mr Tan to fall ill. "They have not been able to give us a concrete answer, only their suspicions or possible causes," Mr Tan's wife Mdm Choong Siet Mei said. The doctors said the yusheng was one possibility, she added.
When Channel NewsAsia visited Mr Tan, he was cheery despite his physical circumstances. While soft-spoken, his smile reached his eyes as he wheeled himself out of his bedroom on a donated wheelchair.
"Now that I can't find employment, I try to find a new goal every day. There's an Amputee Support Group (at Tan Tock Seng Hospital). I take part in some activities that they organise," said Mr Tan in Mandarin. "They have a meeting every month, which I attend."
Mr Tan added that his 47-year-old wife has been a pillar of support. "She doesn't even have time to herself. Her time is mine," Mr Tan said, with a hint of wistfulness in his eyes.
"Without me, he can't do anything!" Mdm Choong said, while laughing. She explained that while people who have had their legs amputated can get around using a wheelchair, it is much harder for those with no hands.
"You can barely do anything," Mr Tan said. "At first, I did not think it was inconvenient, as my wife would always be with me. But when she needed to tend to her own things, I realised I was really helpless. That's when I felt the inconvenience of having no limbs."
NEXT CHAPTER: PROSTHETICS
All this could soon change. Mr Tan said he is meeting doctors next month to see if he is suitable for prosthetics.
Mdm Choong is hopeful that Mr Tan will be able to use them and start a new chapter.
The Tan family, which includes two school-going children aged 14 and 15, has been relying on donations. They poured in from family, Mr Tan's old classmates, their children's schools, as well as two crowdfunding campaigns started by strangers.
Mr Tan, who was the family's sole breadwinner before the incident, said they mainly use the money received on their children, as well as daily expenses.
"We're thinking long-term. We don't know when he can go back to work," said Mdm Choong.
"Even if I go job-hunting, I need a pair of hands," said Mr Tan.
STRANGERS WITH BIG HEARTS
In August, two online campaigns raising funds for Mr Tan emerged on crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. Both were started by individuals who did not know the Tan family personally. One, started by Ms Dorothy Lim, raised US$29,244 (S$41,300), while the other by Mr Troy Ang garnered US$12,370 (S$17,500) in donations.
Mdm Choong's eyes lit up when talking about the campaigns. She admitted to being skeptical initially, but relented after a friend tracked down the two people who started the campaigns. "At first we were worried, because there are many opportunists out there. But after they came down to meet with me, I felt a lot more at ease," she said.
Mdm Choong got visibly emotional as she recounted the generosity of people she did not know. "We really want to thank those who have such big hearts. They are mostly strangers. Why would they do this for us?" she asked, apologising profusely while wiping away her tears.
Mr Tan and Mdm Choong also credited their children's principals and teachers with their assistance throughout the difficult period. "They helped us with fundraising, and helped to settle everything school-related," Mdm Choong said.
Their daughter has been putting on a brave front as well. "She said: 'Mummy, we have no choice now. It's okay, Dad can put on prosthetics," Mdm Choong added.
As for Mr Tan, he says he chooses to focus on the positive. "I am happiest when I see my wife every day," he said, beaming.