Blood recipient turns blood donation advocate

Takalah Tan was at the prime of his life; he was then a commando, a lightweight boxing champion, a triathlete, a skydiver, a bungee-jumper and a scuba-diver all rolled into one! At the age of 24, he beat 7,000 applicants to clinch a promising job in a coveted multinational company. Takalah was all set for a bright future! Sadly, all that changed on 24 May 1994, a week before he was due to start work.

The accident sent Takalah catapulting 70 metres from the rightmost lane to the shoulder curb. He suffered severe head injuries (blinded left-eye, facial disfigurement, permanent amnesia, memory retention deficit, missing left-nostril with disabled sense of smell). The accident also dislocated his left shoulder, fractured three of his right-ribs and completely fractured and shortened his right shin by 1½ inches.

“My surgeon told me that at one stage, I had only 0.1 percent chance of survival! I lost one third of my blood and I urgently needed blood transfusion. Due to the available donated blood, I survived.

With my brain infected and having had a life-threatening fever of 46°C, I am grateful to still be alive! When I was warded in the ICU, I was rushed to the surgical theatre on seven occasions to remove recurrent blood-clots that dangerously pressed upon the area between my skull and brain, hence suffocating my brain! After discharge, I underwent costly dental treatments before I could go through seven cranial-facial surgeries for the reconstruction of my deformed face; three of which involved a multi-disciplinary surgical task-force (dental, craniofacial and ophthalmology). The lengthening of my right shin was done as a demonstration lesson to NUS Medicine Faculty undergraduates,” explained Takalah.

Three months after Takalah’s unfortunate accident, while he was still warded in NUH, his family suffered another setback - his dad died due to a heart-attack. “I felt my father shouldn’t have forsaken his heart-bypass appointment! He loved me so much he would rather visit me in hospital than to have my family run between two hospitals. During the first few months after my father’s passing, I contemplated suicide,” he acknowledged.

A few months down the road, Takalah found the inner strength to transform his negativity to positivity.

He said, “I told myself that my father died to pay my debts, so I must keep improving myself; to henceforth be ‘A lighted-beacon in troubled waters – to bring people to safer shores.”

He counted himself fortunate as he had friends and relatives who never gave up hope on him. However, he had to re-learn everything he once knew.

“I had to grow up through the different ages again; and do so most speedily! I had to learn about my life before the accident. From the number of trophies and awards in my cabinet, I learnt that I used to be very active in sports and organisational endeavours,” he said.

Six months after the accident, Takalah began to work; starting out as a food-stall assistant, an odd-job assistant, an administrative staff, a room-cleaner, a primary / secondary school teacher and as a customer service receptionist at a call centre. Unfortunately, he could not hold the jobs due to his poor memory.

True to his name “Takalah” (“can’t lose” in Malay) which he adopted in 1984 to write to pen-friends, he did not give up. Armed with Post-Graduate Diploma in Health Science as well as Education, he finds hope and dutifulness in being a motivational speaker.

Takalah, 46, is a living testimony that courage, inner strength, and undaunting spirit can indeed triumph over tremendous adversity.

To regain his fitness, he began with staircase-climbing and water-resistance training before he went on to jog and swim regularly. He also donates blood quarterly. By the forthcoming Lunar New Year, Takalah will have donated 50 times!

“I won’t be alive had it not been for the compassionate blood donors. I hope to inspire more people to donate blood as my way of contributing back to society. Patients need blood for surgical procedures, unforeseen circumstances or to sustain their lives because of a medical condition. To have sufficient supply, we must keep giving,” explained Takalah.