The world was his oyster. He was a suave model, about to make his mark as an entrepreneur with a RM5 million business deal. Everything was going right for him. But God had other plans for him, he believes (much later). Within the same night that the business deal was being discussed, Leonard Chua got into a freak accident that paralysed him from chest down – rendering him disabled from the spinal cord injury since that fateful night in 2005. It would seem that everything went wrong from then on. Not so, according to Leonard, as he shares with Top 10 of Malaysia on how having a second chance at life completely transformed his values, focus and purpose in life.
On that fateful night, Leonard Chua went from being a potential millionaire to being completely disabled from his upper chest down.
“I was 24 years old … an entrepreneur who was about to embark on a loyalty programme business deal that was worth RM5 million. I drank a lot during that meeting, and drove home. Unfortunately, I slept on the steering wheel and my car crashed into a tree along the Federal Highway. It was 6th October 2005,” Leonard recalls the day that transformed his life altogether.
For many, this incident would have crippled them not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. Some would attempt suicide, and Leonard was no different.
“I was admitted to the University Malaya Medical Centre for six months. One and a half months in the ICU, plus four and a half months in the rehabilitation ward. My heart stopped twice, first time during the surgery – ten minutes, and the second time in the ICU – three minutes. This second cardiac arrest affected my speech, my fingers’ fine motor function and I had memory loss during this tragedy. I had to relearn everything again like a little boy such as my handwriting and my speech,” shares Leonard.
He sunk so low, and eventually attempted suicide.
“I tried to commit suicide a couple of times because I just couldn’t accept the fact that I’m paralysed and that I’ve lost everything overnight. Those suicidal thoughts were in my mind all the time because I lost hope,” says Leonard.
However, he quickly bounced back – thanks to his doting mother and friends’ unfailing love for him.
“They were the ones who gave me the courage, strength and confidence to fight against all odds. Without them, I’m nothing at all,” Leonard says.
Perhaps it is true then that the way up is down, for Leonard quickly regained willpower to recover and no longer dwelt in self-pity. He realised his selfishness in the past, and the accident became his great wake-up call.
Today, Leonard is a successful motivational speaker and the first disabled male model in Malaysia.
“Before the accident, I used to be a very arrogant, selfish, rebellious and irresponsible young man. Through this journey, I totally understand the torture and difficulties of being a disabled person and after being through life and death, fame and luxury is no longer important to me. I just wish to use my last hour … till my last breath to contribute to society. I wish to inspire my comrades with my story to bring them hope, and to tell them not to give up easily,” Leonard says.
His dreams did come true eventually, and his story continues to inspire many other disabled people in the country. He related one of his most memorable moments in inspiring a disabled ‘comrade’.
The spinal patient’s name was Alex, and he was in the ICU. He broke his neck, and is paralysed from his neck down, which means a more serious injury than Leonard’s.
“He was breathing through a respirator and had been bedridden since he was admitted, not been to anywhere and was staring at the ceiling all the time. What a pity!” says Leonard.
“I told him not to give up and shared my story with him. I taught him some qigong exercises.” Miraculously, two weeks later, he heard at the hospital that Alex could breathe on his own and could finally sit on the wheelchair. Leonard rushed to the ICU and embraced the good news for himself.
“I was so happy for him. He told me, ‘Leonard, thank you. If you didn’t visit me two weeks ago, I would still be lying down. I will never forget you, Leonard Chua!’ That was the best moment in my life that I ever had. I was so happy,” says Leonard.
Leonard believes this is his calling for life, and also hopes to educate the youths. He does this through his rehab centre, Beyond Rehab Wellness Centre.
“I wish to educate the youths to not repeat my mistakes and for this I trained myself very hard to be a speaker. I just wish to borrow this platform to reach out to as many people as possible to light up as many hearts as I could. I wish to be able to speak in at least 10 countries and open 5 branches nationwide,” says Leonard with a great sense of purpose.