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P’Tom  works on the third floor in the IT department of CCD. He spends most of his day solving the various problems that people run into, from technological problems to designing flyers and logos from CCD. He also spends his day on his wheelchair. P’Tom is paralyzed from the waist down. He has no cognitive disability though so he was able to tell me his story in full detail. It’s taken me so long to write this story because I didn’t think my weak words could do his story justice. But I will try my best.
You see, P’Tom didn’t use to be confined to a wheelchair. He spent his childhood in Korat (โคราช), about 200 km NE of Bangkok, with his little brother, father, and mother. His favorite pastimes were playing in the water, climbing mountains, hunting small animals, etc. When he was 6, the rest of his family moved out to Bangkok for better job opportunities, leaving him to live with his grandma until he was 11. Then, he followed his family out to Bangkok. Bangkok was a big, scary place where he often got teased for being a country kid. So, as any kid must do, he adjusted. Things got better, but when he was 15 his father cheated. A divorce ensued and his brother and him stayed with his mother. A year later, his father died of a lung disease. His mom got a new boyfriend, a motorcycle taxi driver. At this time, P’Tom was 16 years old – a typical teenage boy. As expected, he was fascinated by his stepdad’s motorcycle. He would play on it the evenings, learning how to ride it. He wanted to be able to take it to school to show his friends how cool he was. Such were the thoughts of a teenage boy.
October 4, 2001
“It was around 8:00am and it was raining outside. My mom said that I shouldn’t take out the motorcycle, but my stepdad said go ahead. So I did. I remember that I had a heavy backpack on and I was going fast. The road was slippery and there was a curve. There was a truck coming too fast and it crashed into me. Everything went black.
Not for long though because I woke up still on the street. I couldn’t remember how I’d gotten here at first, and then I saw the car that had crashed into me. My helmet was broken. I tried to get up, but I couldn’t. I touched my legs and they were numb. I knew, then and there. I just knew.
People were surrounding me. Seeing as how I was awake, they just thought my leg was broken so they tried to lift me onto a taxi. The hospitals at the time weren’t that developed so calling an ambulance wasn’t really a viable option. But as soon as they lifted me onto the seat, the pain from my back just streaked up and I couldn’t do it. Luckily, police cars arrived at the scene.
I went to a private hospital first, but I didn’t have insurance so they turned me away. Money is money after all. I had no other choice but to go to a government hospital that was really far away. I think I stayed at this hospital for about a month. The doctors told me that I wouldn’t be able to walk anymore.
My mom came, and she cried.”
“There were some disabled kids who had bad legs back home,” he recalled. “We would still play together, but I used to tease them for their legs. Of course, everything’s different when it happens to you.” When the doctors told him, he was understandably in shock and couldn’t cope. His first thought popped up randomly – he worried about falling behind in school. Suicidal thoughts would come later. Eventually, he went home, but he felt like he was in a constant sleep. In a way he was, both mentally and physically. How do you expect someone to come back from such an accident? How was he going to cope with his whole life being changed like that? Consequently, the bedsores got so bad that he had to go to a hospital again. At this point, he felt like he was in a state of near death.
Once he got to the hospital he slept some more, for about 6 months actually, with the doctors turning him every 2 hours. His mom stayed with him as encouragement, and she became his first motivation to start fighting. The next 5 months were devoted to therapy where he got stronger and taught himself to lift up into a wheelchair. He was slowly beginning to come back. He met up with a friend who told him of music lessons and other schooling at a government home for disabled kids. He decided to go.
He enjoyed the government home, taking lessons in computers and design. He tried out some sports, wheelchair basketball and fencing (more on this later). Then he became over 18, a bit too old for the government home, forcing him to search for a job. The job search was challenging, as you might expect, exacerbated as it was by his condition. Many places didn’t accept him, until finally a company came to the government home to recruit. He worked at this company for about 3 months, but since his job was simply sitting at a computer all day, he had to go to the hospital for a bedsore. He was fired. The second company was an anime company. He worked really hard there, sometimes too hard in fact (his longest shift was 48 hrs and involved sleeping over). He also had to choose between work and going to athletic competitions for fencing – the sport that was quickly capturing his interests and dreams. After 5 months, he decided to leave.
Getting Up – CCD
Finally, in 2008, staff from CCD came to visit the government home. They saw his computer skills and decided to give him a job in the IT department. To put it simply, CCD changed his life. He was able to be himself at CCD – in every way possible. Before, he didn’t have anything and had to attempt to fit into the expectations put onto him. Some thought that he couldn’t possibly drive. So he bought a car and engineered it to work with hand controls. Some thought that he wouldn’t be able to live independently. He now owns a house. He thought that he couldn’t possibly have a shot at dating anyone who wasn’t also handicapped (after the accident he had a girlfriend who was in a wheelchair, but let’s not talk about her). Now, he’s engaged to Leaw, a physical therapist.
If P’Tom could go back in time, he wouldn’t change anything because then he wouldn’t be sure that he would get to come to CCD and convert to Christianity. When asked how that change came about, he replied, “It just so happens that God comes when we don’t have anything. It feels like God is calling me here; He told me that you can still serve me even when you’re in a wheelchair. I have hope in Him.”
P’Tom uses that hope to fuel his ultimate dream: going to the Paralympics for fencing. This is not an idle dream, but one that he works constantly for. He practices hard every day, sometimes coming to work with tape wrapped around his arms, the mark of practicing until it hurts too much to go on. He’s gifted too. His first competition – a national athlete competition – resulted in a gold medal, and this was even without a coach. Since then, his determination and natural talent has allowed him to rack up several gold medals to the point where the Paralympics is just within his reach. He’s currently ranked #19 in the world for fencing and he needs to make it to #12 to go to the Paralympics. There’s just one problem though: funding. To increase his ranking he needs to go to competitions, and competitions cost money. It is not ability, not motivation, not perseverance that he lacks. It is money. Just $2000 and he can go to the Asian Games, a step towards the Paralympics. Just 7 spots, and he will reach his lifelong dream.
He has faith in his fundraising and his practicing though. He’s already been helped by so many people and he’s come a long way from where he lay on the street on October 4, 2001. His friend and fellow co-worker, Tarn Saithong, also believes in him. “Do your best, and God will do the rest,” she says. Will you help him reach his goal? Or will you tell him that it’s not possible?
Please donate or share at this page: https://www.facebook.com/tompipatthailand/.
Donation Link: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/pipat-tom-thongjapo-wheelchair-fencing-thailand/. (Disclaimer: this donation page is from last year making some of the information outdated, and is towards the Rio 2016 Paralympics. However, the money donated towards this page will still go towards his cause).
P’Tom’s favorite memories:
- When Leaw became his fiance
- When he came to CCD
- When he made the national fencing team for the first time in 2011
“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.
 The prefix P’ in front of the name P’Tom is a sign of respect to an elder.
**All interviews and information are presented with rightful and ethical consent.