THE Thongs practically had it all.
Earning about US$35 million a year in a textile business, they were able to dine in some of the most expensive restaurants, stay in top rate hotels and lead pretty much a very comfortable life.
But that all not only significantly changed for the Thongs – it also happened virtually overnight.
It was in one dreaded morning in October of 2003.
Their younger boy, Elliot, noticed that mum, Annie, didn’t look too well.
What was supposed to be a simple visit to the doctor turned out to be a nightmare.
Annie, who had always avoided going to a clinic or hospital during her working life, was diagnosed to have suffered a major stroke.
She was admitted to a hospital at once. All this happened in New York where she and her family were residing.
“This was the most difficult episode in our lives. Everything suddenly started to collapse right in front of our eyes,” said Tom Thong who worked for Annie as her chauffer and then married her about 40 years ago.
“The Annie we all love was reduced to a vegetable,” Tom went on to explain.
“The hospital kept Annie for a month and had to discharge her under their policy. We had to readmit her to another hospital or take her home.
“We opted for the latter because we couldn’t afford the hospitalisation costs.”
When Annie returned to her double-storey house she was not much different than from what she was since she suffered a stroke, according to Tom.
“Annie who was born in the Year of the Tiger and a very strong and independent person, was suddenly dependent on us to do everything for her,” said Tom pointing out that it was very hard for her to accept her situation.
Tom put an inflatable mattress on the floor in the living room downstairs where he became a full-time caregiver to his loving wife.
Everything was done for her from there – her meals, bath, toileting and so on. Annie was unable to sit, stand, walk or even talk.
She could only utter sounds. And it wasn’t difficult to Tom to know when she was upset.
Little by little, they devised a way to communicate with each other – Tom learning to ask the right questions and Annie making various sounds for what she wanted.
“Even my boys at home had to learn to be responsible for themselves soon after realising that their mum was not able to do things she used to do for them any longer.
“It became even harder when Annie refused to see some of her relatives and close friends. I knew that she didn’t want them to see her in such a helpless situation,” said Tom.
But over time, the situation began to slowly improve for Tom and Annie. They had worked out a routine each day about what needs to be done for life for the family to continue.
Annie’s condition also started to improve where she is able to walk a few steps with support now. She can also put together a few words even though it takes some time to do so.
The Thongs who lived in the United States for 25 years are now back to Malaysia and living in Old Klang Road in Kuala Lumpur.
They do make overseas trips occasionally.
Tom, 65, who makes it a point to take Annie, 63, out with him – albeit in a wheelchair - when necessary would like to see more wheelchair-friendly access in more buildings, especially restaurants.
He stressed that that providing for such features will give more opportunities for many others like him and his wife in getting out and about in our society.
“It is a very vital part of rehabilitation for people after stroke.” He said.
Despite what happened in their lives, the Thongs see everything that happened in their lives as a blessing from God.
“Living an extravagant lifestyle like driving a Mercedes in New York and wearing only branded attire and objects may sound tantalising to many people.
“However, living such a lifestyle also brings on unnecessary stress and a certain responsibility as well that could rob one of knowing what really matters in life in the end of the day,” said Tom.
“The disability that my wife and I went through – and still do today – has brought us much closer to each other and our children than we could have ever imagined if nothing had happened.
“There were times when we spent as many as 6 months away from each other when we were working. The experience has taught us what is truly priceless in our lives that we should cherish forever.” Tom concluded.
Tom and Annie will be spending Chinese New Year with Tom’s parents in KL.