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“It’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” - Matt Leong's Story

Read on to hear Matt Leong's powerful and inspiring journey, a testament to conquering not the mountain, but oneself. Since a life-altering car accident in 2014 left him tetraplegic, Matt shares the stark reality of living with a disability and how he has found strength and resilience to move forward. 

This sentiment captures the journey I’ve been on since becoming tetraplegic in 2014 following a car accident. By telling my story, I hope to raise awareness of the reality of living with a disability and share how I’ve been able to move forward since the accident. 

It began with an ordinary car journey. But after a tire burst, the vehicle hit the side of the road and, despite wearing a seatbelt, my head hit the side of the car breaking my neck and severing the spinal cord at the C5/C6 level. I have the most severe form of spinal cord injury – an A on the American Spinal Cord Injury Association (ASIA) scale. What that means for me is that I lost all movement in my lower body and can only move my arms and my wrists (but not my fingers). 

Staring up at the mountain

I spent three months in hospital after the accident. One of the doctors actually told my family that I should be sent to a nursing home after my discharge – it was this early period, the first two to three years, that were definitely the hardest mentally and emotionally.

I learned that it’s OK not to be OK and to accept help. 

The reality of being tetraplegic is that I use a wheelchair and without being able to move my fingers I can’t do many simple day-to-day things like hold a pen or utensils, turn a doorknob or use a mouse. And to raise awareness of some of the physical challenges that people who are quadriplegic face, I want to mention the recurring urine infections, bedsores, dizziness, rashes, and body spams. These are part of my daily life.  

Nevertheless, I consider myself fortunate because I can still move my arm and wrist so, through practice, I’m able to do simple chores and use a touch screen computer.

 I can’t overstate how important the help and understanding I received from my wife, my family, friends, and colleagues has been. I have a full-time caregiver at home and in the office and my wife takes care of our two kids aged nine and eleven. My Deloitte leaders, peers, colleagues and team have also been helpful, understanding, and amazing and I’m forever appreciative of everyone’s support on this journey. Deloitte has made my office room larger and the pathway and door to my office are wider to allow wheelchair accessibility. I also take advantage of predictive text and a touch screen on my phone and laptop. 

On the personal level, what’s really helped has been reading a lot about spirituality and people’s near-death experiences. It has taught me that love, joy, positiveness, and gratitude prevail in the long run. I’m also very deliberate about practicing meditation, visualization, and affirmation to stay positive and change my perspective. It’s so easy to fall into a loop of negativity so I tend to look forward and not dwell on the past. It’s how I’ve learned to accept my current circumstances, and of course, to be bold, be strong, and to be resilient. 

Not to say that the battle is over - I really have to take the time and make the effort to meditate, to relax, to change my views, to accept inconveniences, even to be patient with others.

The biggest takeaway for me is that, for things to change, we ourselves must first be the change and make that choice – nobody can do it for us.

With this attitude, I gradually started to see changes in my own life first, and then in my family, in my wife, and my children, and so on. 

Resilience and change

The need to embrace change – even when it’s sudden like what happened to me – has been a core part of my story. I’ve read a lot about stepping out of your comfort zone which has helped me be more open to new opportunities and to doing things differently. In the workplace, this has manifested in me taking on additional responsibilities as the Southeast Asia Financial Advisory Chief Operating Officer. And at home, while I obviously don’t go out much anymore, I play boardgames to spend time with the kids. It’s a time where we can sit down and chat about how they’re doing.  

At the deeper level, what my experience has convinced me of is that, regardless of race, skin color, religion, country, gender, and even regardless of whether we're able bodied or disabled, we can all make a positive impact on each other's lives while we are still alive here on Earth.