A blog by a brain injury survivor

I was contacted by Craig J. Phillips earlier this year, but neglected to mention the comment he posted at my old blog. Craig posted this comment here several days ago:

I am a traumatic brain injury survivor and a master’s level rehabilitation counselor. I sustained an open skull fracture with right frontal lobe damage and remained in a coma for 3 weeks at the age of 10 in August of 1967. I underwent brain and skull surgery after waking from the coma. Follow-up cognitive and psychosocial testing revealed that I would not be able to succeed beyond high school. In 1967 Neurological Rehabilitation was not available to me, so I had to teach myself how to walk, talk, read, write and speak in complete sentences. I completed high school on time and went on to obtain both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. For an in depth view of my process please read my post, My journey thus far.

Through out my lifetime I developed strategies to overcome many obstacles and in so doing I have achieved far beyond all reasonable expectations. On February 6, 2007 at the encouragement of a friend I created Second Chance to Live. Second Chance to Live presents topics in such a way to encourage, motivate and empower the reader to live life on life’s terms. I believe our circumstances are not meant to keep us down, but to build us up. As a traumatic brain injury survivor, I speak from my experience, strength and hope. As a professional, I provide information to encourage, motivate and empower both disabled and non-disabled individuals to not give up on their process.



  1. #1 Takalah Tan
    September 5, 2007


    Its is great to witness another comrade who has similarly survived from TBI and is embarking on a trail of noble realisation despite pertinent challenges aplenty; be it psycho-social, inflicted deficits, the inadequacies in the prevalent civil and social infrastructure selectively created and made available for communal utilisation and etc.

    Below is just one of the few sites available in the web which gives a overview of the principal need for the inherent attribute depicted by the phrase: “Against All Odds!”

    Yours sincerely,

    Takalah Tan kok Liang

    He lost almost all… But a new life’s waiting
    Jan 24, 2000
    IT was as if he was talking about someone else.
    And in a way, he was.
    Mr Takalah Tan, 30, lost large chunks of his memory in a road accident in 1994.
    He was then Mr Tan Kok Liang, a graduate sales manager, a former athlete, adventurer, commando.
    But after 14 operations on his eyes, legs, brain, face and cheekbones, his right leg is shorter. And his left eye is 95 per cent blind.
    It must have been harrowing. To anyone interested, he uses a Powerpoint presentation on his “odyssey” running to the X-files tune.
    Click. Here’s a President’s scout.
    Click. Lightweight boxing champion in Officer Cadet’s School.
    Click. Sky-diver, bungee-jumper, scuba-diver.
    But all these and more were erased from Mr Tan’s mind.
    “I lost almost everything – my varsity mechanical engineering training gone, my commando training gone,” he said without a tinge of sadness or self-pity.
    “My mind was almost completely blank when I opened my eyes after two weeks in coma,” he said.
    “I felt born again…like a baby.”
    Slowly, he began to find out what he had been like. His own bedroom became a fascinating treasure trove.
    Scraps of paper with his own poetry scribblings allowed him to “deduce” that he was quite an emotional person.
    The numerous trophies in his cabinet told him he was a great sportsman and even a dancer (he won a dance competition).
    “Amazing… astonishing,” Mr Tan whispered as he went through his past diary entries.
    The first months at home were hard, and he had suicidal thoughts. Especially after his father died.
    Mr Tan still feels that his father could have had a bypass operation if the family hadn’t spent $30,000 on him.
    “I told myself that my father died to pay my debts so that I’ll keep on improving myself,” he said.
    He gave himself a new name in 1997 – “Takalah”, meaning “can’t lose” in Malay.
    To regain his fitness, he started jogging and swimming.
    Now, he exercises regularly and has no problem running long distances, or doing a lap or two of the strenuous butterfly stroke.
    He is working on a book on his experiences, his recovery and poetry.
    So, will he have time for new relationships?
    The time is still not right, he said. “Besides, Virgos like myself marry late or don’t get married at all,” quipped the Evergreen Secondary School teacher.
    Watching him grow again
    THERE was no joy in watching a grown-up son grow up again.
    And become a different person.
    Mrs Tan Ghee Chuan’s world seemed to be crumbling around her after her son, who seemed to have a bright future ahead of him, had the accident.
    Barely four months later, her husband died of a heart attack, in August 1994.
    Mr Takalah Tan Kok Liang eventually recovered.
    But, he had become an entirely different person. And he had had to “grow up” again.
    Said Mrs Tan, 52, a seamstress, in Mandarin: “When Takalah came home from the hospital about four months after the accident, he did not know anything. He didn’t know how to turn on the radio, didn’t know know where his clothes were.
    “He was very lazy to wash himself. I had to nag and nag him before he would reluctantly do it.
    “But what to do. On the one hand, he was like a child; on the other, he is also a grown-up. I cannot force feed him,” she said.
    Doctors had told her that Mr Tan, who suffered severe head injuries in the motorcycle accident, would go through the different ages as he “grew up”.
    “He actually told me himself: ‘Mummy, I am a one year old’, ‘I am two years old’, ‘I am three years old’,” said Mrs Tan with a sad laugh.
    Mr Tan took about a year to grow out of it.
    Immediately after the accident, in May 1994, Mrs Tan just could not accept it.
    But doctors kept telling them not to despair.
    “His friends and relatives came to the hospital every day with old photographs and talked to him.
    “But he did not have any reaction for a long time, which made me feel very sad. He would just sit there staring, no expression on his face.
    “But his friends and our relatives never gave up hope,” said Mrs Tan.
    She is thankful for that because, after two months, he started to react.
    “But, he would still forget very fast. His blank look was still there,” said Mrs Tan.
    When her husband died, doctors said Mr Tan could attend his father’s funeral.
    “Friends fetched him from the hospital and he went with us up the hill to bury his father. He did not cry, though his face looked very disturbed,” said Mrs Tan.
    Almost a year after his accident, Mr Tan started working.
    “He did whatever work he could find I think. He was even a food stall assistant or a cleaner. Not bad, he could earn over $1,000 a month,” said Mrs Tan.
    The mechanical engineering graduate is now a science teacher at Evergreen Secondary.
    He lives with his mother and younger brother in a Housing Board flat bought in his name. His elder brother bought a flat in the same block, one storey above.
    Said Mr Edmund Tan, 28, his younger brother: “Physically, he is the opposite of what he was. And mentally, he takes everyone at face value.
    “He takes what you say literally. He has no idea what people are really thinking. I was very worried for him socially.”
    But not all the change was for the worse.
    “Even though he does not remember a lot of things, he has become very protective of me,” said Mrs Tan softly.
    “I don’t speak English you see. He scolds his brothers for speaking English in front of me.
    “He says ‘Mummy doesn’t understand’. He never used to do that.”
    Something disturbing… but not anymore’
    Comment/ NG BOON YIAN
    WHAT’S it like to be involved in a traffic accident, undergo 14 opeartions and lose your memory for at least six months?
    I expected to see hints of confusion, touches of wistfulness and traces of pain from a lost past.
    I saw none of that in Mr Takalah Tan – his new name, meaning a person who can’t lose in Malay.
    His old name, Kok Liang, is part of his lost past.
    From his eloquence on the phone to his firm handshake, Mr Tan was all confidence and assurance.
    Here was a classic tale of the triumph of sheer human will over tremendous adversity.
    Yet, the interview also left me disturbed.
    Something seemed amiss. Something I couldn’t quite put a finger on.
    It was the way he presented his life story, in a perfectly modulated voice, accompanied by Powerpoint slides that made me feel as if I was listening to a speech.
    His sentences were peppered with technical words like “fundamental reflex”, “ego propulsion” and “optimal efficiency” – all applied to himself.
    I never saw him falter in regret or pain when talking about a lost past.
    That’s when it hit me that I had no reason to expect any pain or regret.
    Because for Mr Tan, the past was smashed into smithereens at the moment of the crash.
    And who can be sentimental about a void?
    Maybe that’s why Mr Tan could be so detached when speaking about his past as if it was someone else’s.
    The way the rest of us, who are still living with the burden of the past, can never do.
    Don’t get me wrong. I have great admiration for how he fought to make a second life for himself.
    Yet, I remember vividly how Mr Tan read the poems he used to write before the accident, with an amused detachment.
    It caused a squeeze in my heart.
    I realised that even if, like a meticulous historian, he manages to stitch together all the fragments of his past, something will still be gone.

    Extracted from web address:

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