ST Run 2018: At 29, Mak Kwok Fai suffered a stroke. At 39, he’s running half-marathons
When he regained full consciousness, Mak Kwok Fai remembered little about the stroke he had suffered and the three-month hospital stay that followed in 2008.
His body remembered even less - in fact it seemed to have forgotten the previous 29 years of his life.
"It was like being a baby again, going through the whole process of learning how to do simple things. But of course you are an adult so that was the frustrating part," said Mak, 39, whose 30th birthday passed while he was in hospital.
"I could move my right hand but when I tried to feed myself, the food would just go all over my face. I had to learn how to write my ABCs again too."
A blood vessel had burst in the left side of his brain in what is known as a haemorrhage, affecting the right side of his body. Mak, who is right-handed, had to use a wheelchair for about four to five months.
He could walk normally again by the second half of 2009 and in 2012 he decided to start volunteering at the Singapore National Stroke Association (SNSA), sharing his experiences with fellow stroke survivors and even writing a book.
But it was not until last year that Mak, a sprinter in the track and field teams at Zhonghua Secondary School and Anderson Junior College, thought to take up running again.
He had made one abortive attempt in 2012 on the familiar 400m running track but was disheartened by how difficult something that had once come so naturally had become.
"I ran on the track for three rounds and I needed to rest for three days after that," said the financial adviser at NTUC Income.
"But after I wrote my book (in 2013), I realised my stamina was getting better. I was also meeting a lot of other stroke survivors at SNSA who were having difficulties walking, and I thought it would be good for them to see that I can run."
Inspired, he signed up for his first running event at the Income Eco Run last April, clocking 10km.
"I was very happy and excited. I can't really describe the feeling (of running again). So much has happened before so it's kind of an achievement and you feel very satisfied," he said.
This year on Sept 23, 15 days after the 10th anniversary of his stroke, Mak will take part in his first The Straits Times Run.
He completed 21km at last year's Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon but will do the 10km in the ST Run with a group from SNSA, some of whom are fellow stroke survivors.
"Kwok Fai is doing incredibly well both physically and emotionally," said Dr Deidre Anne De Silva, a member of the SNSA management committee and a senior consultant from the department of neurology at the National Neuroscience Institute.
"Exercise is good for general health and the prevention of further strokes or vascular diseases. There is no absolute reason a stroke survivor can't do a half-marathon like Kwok Fai but it's good to get clearance from your doctor for anything more than routine."
Today Mak's body has recovered its memories, so to speak, even if he is a bit slower in everything he does.
He says the biggest credit for his progress should go to his mother, who wants to be known as only Ms Chiang.
"She wants me to see myself as a normal person," said Mak. "A big part of the reason I could improve so fast is because she has always thought this way."
* This year's run comprises three categories - 5km, 10km and 18.45km. Registration is $50, $60 and $70 respectively. Past participants enjoy a loyal runner rate ($38, $48 and $58). Register at www.straitstimesrun.com.