By Teo Zi Lin
Being resilient, courageous and determined is no easy feat for this student – but Edgar Cheong has what it takes to rise above adversity
After being granted a chance to live again, Edgar Cheong turned his near-death experience four years ago into his source of motivation in life.
Despite being paralysed chest down, the third-year Psychology Studies student from Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Humanities & Social Sciences defied all odds to pursue excellence in both his academic results and co-curricular activities (CCA).
In November 2011, 17-year-old Edgar was having a blast at a pool party with his friends. However, his life took an unexpected turn when his head hit the bottom of the pool as he jumped into it. The impact caused him to suffer a spinal compression fracture, which left him paralysed from the chest down.
For others, the reality of being wheelchair bound for life would have been a huge blow. However, for Edgar, he was just the opposite. “I did not have the luxury of time to think about what is going to happen to my daily life,” recounts Edgar. “I was just focusing on surviving, which was why the news didn’t really affect me.”
Due to the seriousness of his injury, doctors were expecting Edgar to be bedridden for the rest of his life. However, after the first surgery to brace Edgar’s neck, a miracle occurred. His injuries took a turn for the better and he was able to move from the intensive care unit to a normal ward.
“This second chance in life is something that not many people get. During my stay in hospital, I heard a rumour that in the same pool where I hit my head, another person drowned a month later. I am really lucky [to have survived],” says Edgar.
Instead of being haunted by the past, he used it as a source of motivation to pursue what he wants in life – to continue his studies. “With this near-death experience, I can tell myself, ‘Yes, I’ve gone through one life endangering event. [Difficulties in school] is not going to set me back anymore. I don’t really have much to lose. So go ahead, try it, and do your best!’”
Edgar is currently on the Sir Gareth Roberts Memorial Scholarship programme, which is awarded to students with excellent ‘O’ Level results and CCA records, as well as a strong potential to lead.
He was also the president of the Debate Club before it was absorbed into the Current Affairs Club. Last year, he brought his debate team to the semi-finals of the Inter-Polytechnic Debates Championship 2014. Edgar also made it into the list of the top 10 speakers out of the 30 debaters in the competition.
Among his peers, Edgar is seen as someone who is knowledgeable, helpful, and kind, with a good sense of humour.
“Edgar is an outspoken classmate who is willing to share his knowledge and experiences with others, providing us with new insights that broadened our perspective towards certain issues. At the same time, he is a very helpful classmate who has not only helped me in my academics, but also constantly shows care and concern to me when I seemed unwell,” says Chew Tai Wen, who was classmates with Edgar.
Nur Ameesha, 19, added, “He is also someone who sometimes provides the class with laughter [using] his sense of humour.”
Jonathan Tng, 19, says that Edgar is a good role model as he constantly pursues and broadens his knowledge, while Ameesha says that he is a good role model for his “perseverance, resilience, and optimism despite all that he has [experienced]”.
Dr Juliet Choo, 43, a lecturer with the School of Humanities & Social Sciences, says that “Edgar is vocal and frank in sharing his views and opinions. He is independent in getting around campus and participated actively in field trips and group projects that involved working with external organisations.
“I am proud of him as an advocate; he is articulate in conveying his needs and his rights to an accessible campus.”
Throughout his time in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Edgar has been actively giving feedback and suggestions about the accessibility of the campus for students with physical disabilities. The school has taken measures to implement some of his suggestions to make parts of the school wheelchair accessible.
To get to the Poolside from Blk 7 or 8, students have to cross a zebra crossing. Previously, the zebra crossing is not wheelchair-friendly due to the two kerbs at the two sides of the road. Taking Edgar’s feedback into consideration, the school flattened the kerbs and the zebra crossing is now wheelchair accessible.
“Although it takes a lot of time for the school to implement the changes and I might not get to enjoy the benefits, I believe [my suggestions] will help others like me,” said Edgar.
Edgar will be giving a presentation to introduce the modifications of campus facilities made for the physically disabled to students with Special Education Needs in April next year.