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'Just let her walk again': A mother's hope this Deepavali

M Kanchana was only nine years old when her health began to fail, and at 13, she is wheelchair-bound.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
3 minute read
M Kalaichelvi pushes her daughter's wheelchair through the front door of their small home at the Kerinchi low-cost flats in Pantai Dalam, Kuala Lumpur.
M Kalaichelvi pushes her daughter's wheelchair through the front door of their small home at the Kerinchi low-cost flats in Pantai Dalam, Kuala Lumpur.

M Kalaichelvi's daughter, M Kanchana, was only nine years old when she began crying at night, complaining of pain in her legs and telling her mother that she could not sleep. 

In the morning, the girl would be too tired to go to school and would only sit in the house, lethargic and unlike her usual active self. 

"At first, I thought she was just being lazy," Kalaichelvi said. 

"I scolded her because she spent so much time playing games on the phone." 

Eventually, though, Kalaichelvi decided to take her daughter to see a doctor.

The doctor took an X-ray and said there didn't seem to be any problems. He told Kalaichelvi it was possible that Kanchana was malnutritioned. 

Kalaichelvi tried to encourage Kanchana to eat more, but to her confusion, her daughter only began losing more weight. 

M Kalaichelvi lifts her daughter into her wheelchair after picking her up from school. 

"After a while, she began having trouble digesting her food," she said. "We went to check again with a doctor who did an MRI."

It turned out that Kanchana had a tumour measuring 13 inches in her back. 

But by the time they discovered it, it was too late. 

Today, at 13, Kanchana is confined to a wheelchair with little to no hope of running and playing again any time soon. 

Speaking to MalaysiaNow in the living room of her small unit at the Kerinchi low-cost flats in Pantai Dalam, Kuala Lumpur, Kalaichelvi said she had asked her daughter to forgive her for thinking that she was not interested in such activities. 

Although she can still move about, Kanchana has very limited mobility and must be supported. She also tires very quickly.

Her condition makes the family's situation even more challenging than it was before. 

Every morning, Kalaichelvi wakes up early to help her other three children get ready for school.

Her husband, K Manickam, drops them off along with a number of other children from the neighbourhood. 

He used to work as a dispatch rider before going on to drive lorries instead. But when the movement control order kicked in at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic two years ago, he lost his job. 

Now, he and Kalaichelvi make a living picking up children and sending them to schools around the Petaling Jaya area. 

While Manickam is dropping off the other children, Kalaichelvi gets Kanchana ready to go to school at SMK Abdul Samad. 

A woman gazes out from a corridor at the bleak surroundings of the Kerinchi low-cost flats in Pantai Dalam. 

It is a long and tiring process for both mother and daughter, and Kalaichelvi can only move on to dropping off other students once Kanchana is safely at school. 

Between her and her husband, they have about 15 students whom they drive about on a regular basis. 

On weekends, Kalaichelvi makes a little extra money, cleaning the homes of some people she knows. 

Before Kanchana's illness, she did much more work at more houses but now, she can only manage about two homes each week. 

She also cares for her mother-in-law, who is old and recently had a fall which landed her in hospital.

Sometimes, it's too much for Kalaichelvi to handle and one of her children has to skip school to help her. 

But despite her ill health, Kanchana is a bright and talented student who loves drawing and writing, and has won a number of colouring contests. 

She comes home from school early, at about 11am, as her urinary catheter must be cleaned every six hours. 

"There's no facilities at the school for this, so I have to pick her up early," Kalaichelvi said. 

"If the tube isn't cleaned every six hours, her urine will pass back into her body and cause worse problems." 

With Deepavali around the corner, Kalaichelvi has made no preparations whatsoever. 

Counting the years since Kanchana became ill, she said there was no joy for her family in the Festival of Lights. 

"The most I will do is prepare some muruku for us," she said. 

"We rarely go out anywhere. Since Kanchana's health turned bad, it's been hard for us to celebrate anything." 

Her small flat is bare, with no new clothes, no decorations and no traditional snacks. 

For now, the only sliver of hope for her is the small chance that, with physiotherapy, her daughter might one day walk again. 

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