Christina Kang was only 23 when she was wheelchair bound for life after being hit, for the second time, by Spinal Arteriovenous Malformation or spinal AVM, a rare, abnormal tangle of blood vessels on, in or near the spinal cord.
It happened the evening after her first day of language exams in South Korea. She took it, hoping to get better job prospects in China where she lived. It never came through.
Instead, she had to endure a long and grueling recovery process and excruciating lower back pain after being told the devastating news. At that point in her life, thinking about her future was simply impossible until she was finally well enough to return to her hometown at Yichuan, Hubei.
When spinal AVM first hit her, she was just 16. Her doctor said her blood vessels were smaller than average and stress caused her blood vessel to burst, causing her maiden seizure.
Because she was young and her burst vessel not located at a vital position, she made a quick recovery within a few months.
She wasn’t so lucky when she had her second seizure. On top of being in a foreign country, she also had to reconsider her career as an event planner.
“I worked in Guangzhou for 3 years before going to Korea for the exam. Because it was a taxing job, my mom was worried about my career path. She suggested that I should pursue something more technical,” Christina said.
And she listened. Uncertain about her direction in life, she reached out to her international friends whom she met while volunteering at ‘The Beautiful Gate’, a foundation for the disabled in Malaysia.
“I told my friends that the universities in China are not disabled-friendly. I didn’t know where to go. My friends recommended Malaysian universities as they meet my needs,” the 27-year-old added.
After doing an extensive research, Christina came to know of Taylor’s and software engineering. Despite being forced to step out of her comfort zone, she took the leap of faith and enroled. Her struggles were still far from over.
During her first year on campus, she had to juggle between frequent treatments from University Malaysia (UM), volunteering gigs at ‘The Beautiful Gate’, classes and assignments. Because she was new to her wheelchair, she could not adapt to her new university lifestyle quickly enough. Simple things like getting out of bed and going to the bathroom were taxing. As a result, she had a bladder infection.
“It was so challenging because I would get fever every two to three days. I had to miss class then catch up by seeking help from lecturers and friends. They were very encouraging,” said Christina who is still struggling with this wheelchair lifestyle.
To deal with her pain, Christina’s doctor advised her to exercise and place a cushion at her lower back for support. After taking up swimming, archery and badminton, her condition improved. Moved by her plight, her lecturers raised funds to buy a smaller and more user-friendly wheelchair.
“I was so touched and thankful when my lecturers gave me a new wheelchair. It’s much easier for me to get around now,” the final year software engineering student said.
Having spinal AVM gave Christina more than a change of environment.
“Honestly, I didn’t like event planning at all. Because of this disease, I found software engineering and fell in love with it. At first, I didn’t know anything about programming but the moment I got it and completed a simple programme, I found joy. I like problem-solving and thinking logically. It fits me well.”
An avid traveller who still yearns to go on solo trips, Christina dreams to pursue Masters or PhD and get a related job.
“Looking back, I feel things happen for a reason and having spinal AVM trained me to be stronger and helped me find my passion. One day, I want to be a lecturer and inspire others,” she said.