No odds too great for an ‘Unsung Hero’

July 23, 2017 - 09:00

A Vietnamese boy who could barely walk or speak because of cerebral palsy gets two degrees at a US university and looks forward to new challenges, Phan Dương and Lương Hương report.

Red letter day: Quân and his mother at his graduation ceremony at the Georgia Gwinnet College in the US in May. Photo
Viet Nam News

A Vietnamese boy who could barely walk or speak because of cerebral palsy gets two degrees at a US university and looks forward to new challenges, Phan Dương and Lương Hương report.

Graduation Day is special for all students, but the applause was particularly prolonged and resounding as Trần Mạnh Chánh Quân’s name was announced at the ceremony held at Georgia Gwinnett College in May this year.

The special applause for Quân was not just that he was getting two degrees, one in IT and another in mathematics, but that the wheel-chair bound student was also suffered from cerebral palsy, a condition caused by brain damage that affects body movement, muscle control and co-ordination, reflex, posture and balance.

Twenty-five years ago, when riding through a bumpy road in Ngãi Giao Commune, Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu Province, Quân’s mother, Lê Mạnh Nữ Vinh Sơn, fell off her bike. She was seven months pregnant with him.

Quân was thus born with cerebral palsy. He could not sit by himself at the age of three. With monumental patience, Sơn and her husband trained their son with physiotherapy. It took a long time for Quân’s left hand to loosen a bit and for him to feel objects with it. He could only mouth a few words with great difficulty and the speech impediment is a lifelong condition, along with other disabilities.

Quân was able to stand by himself at four. To train him to walk, his parents had to tie splints to his legs and lift him up. Each step was painful for both mother and son, but over the next seven years, they would walk for 1.5km every day.

“It was so painful sometimes that he begged me to stop training, but I was determined, and encouraged him to continue. When he fell and had new injuries before the old ones had healed, I could not help crying. Quân would console me then. ‘I’m OK mother, falling will help me walk’,” Sơn recalled.

His parents did not want him to attend school, given his condition, but Quân was keen on studying and integrating into the society from a very young age.

“I used to enjoy watching scientific programmes on TV, and my parents never refused to buy me books when we went to a bookstore. Learning has been my hobby, until now,” Quân wrote to Việt Nam News.

At seven when he was taken to school for the first time, he refused to attend first grade. “He said he’d already learnt all that they taught in first grade. He wanted to enter second grade right away,” Sơn said.

Initially, Quân could only write words in very big sizes. After a while, he learnt to use his feet to hold the paper and write with his left hand, but it did not get much better. While other students used one notebook, Quân had to use up to three.

He was introduced to computers when his parents purchased one for him at the end of his fifth grade. To type, Quân asked his parents to tie his feet and forced his fingers to work. It took him months to manage to type with three fingers on the left hand instead of using toes, as he used to do earlier.

After primary school, he astonished his parents by saying he wants to attend a specialised school far from his house. Always worried about her son’s condition, his mother did not want him to study too hard. She wanted him to be literate enough to read books and remain healthy. His persistence persuaded her, however.

“I took him to see the principal and asked him to advise my son. But Quân told the principal instead that he did not see any provision prohibiting the disabled from sitting for the entrance examination. Then the principal was convinced, too,” his mother said.

The mother stayed with her son for a month in Vũng Tàu City as he prepared for the exam. With the guidance of many good teachers, Quân passed the entrance exam with high marks in the major subjects.

However, his teachers and parents both worried that he was not healthy enough to sit for too many exams. To convince his parents to allow him to attend the national competition for excellent students in 11th grade, he climbed up over 1,000 steps of the Tao Phùng Mountain, stumbling a lot on the way. On reaching top, he texted his teachers and parents: “I have conquered the mountain peak. I have overcome myself. I’m healthy enough to sit for the exam.”

One person who has inspired Quân a lot is President Hồ Chí Minh.

“I read many about Uncle Hồ when I was small and greatly admire his will. Then, teacher Phạm Thị Nhung at the Lê Quý Đôn Specialised School is my living idol. Thanks to her, I have realised and learnt many things in life.

“The most important thing I have realised is that living is not only eating and breathing. People should have their own ideals. A life becomes worthy only by living beautifully.”

Quân spent most of his time studying. In the 12th grade, he won a consolation prize in the national computing contest, and then received a scholarship from Utica College in the US. In a new country, the young man faced innumerable difficulties, including his wheelchair getting stuck in the snow. But these did not deter him. He remained focused.

“I’m passionate about IT. I saw that I would have chance to get access to more advanced IT if I studied in the US, so I agreed to study abroad. It was very difficult for me.”

In 2013, Quân switched to study at the Georgia Gwinnett College, which is located in more pleasant weather conditions and closer to his relatives. He was one of the best students to compete at contests held by the Association of Information Technology Professionals. He was also popular among other students.

In April this year, the college rewarded Quân with the Unsung Hero title for setting an inspiring example and his willingness to help other people.

Quân has recently applied to Google for a full-time job. Though he has not received the results yet, the trip to Google headquarters for the interview was a memorable one. He said that even if he did not get the position, he would not have lost anything, just gained more useful experience.

“I used to have a complex, but I have become more optimistic. At present, I do not think that I’m disadvantaged in comparison with others. There are only just physical differences.” VNS