Where there's life there's hope

By Maubo Chang CNA Staff Writer Breathing is the easiest thing in the world for most people, but it is difficult for Jhang Shoude, the 27 year-old winner of the 2013 Fervent Love of Life medal from the Chou Ta-kuan Foundation, a Taipei-based charity organization. He was once on the brink of collapse when a power malfunction turned off the mechanical ventilator upon which he relies to breathe. This close call with death has made him value every day that he is alive, and he often undertakes speaking tours to impart this love of life to audiences. Jhang was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at the age of 8. The disease, caused by a genetic defect, causes weakening of the muscles, from the legs upward, impairing the victim's mobility before eventually making unassisted breathing impossible. The doctor's prediction that Jhang's days were numbered did not make him collapse and cry. Instead, he said, he became determined to face each day of his life with gratitude. When his legs became too feeble to walk, he used a wheelchair to get around and his parents took him to and from school every day, but misfortunes fell on him one after another. His father, a bricklayer, died when he was 10 years old, and his mother, an immigrant from Indochina, died of diabetes when he was 12. His only brother died in a workplace accident when he was 16 and a year later, his maternal grandmother, who took care of him after the death of his parents, passed away, leaving him alone. Jhang is in and out of hospital because of his disease, but has not stopped learning. He managed to finish his studies at a technology institute in Tainan and became a licensed computer expert through self-study. Since he is confined to a wheelchair and has to use a mechanical ventilator, he prefers to study at home and enrolled with the National Open University, majoring in mass communication in hope of becoming a broadcast narrator one day to speak for the handicapped. With the help of the Chou Ta-kuan Foundation, Jhang has published a book about his daily struggle for survival, to instill in others the idea that where there is life there is hope. He also calls in his book for an environment that is more friendly toward the mentally and physically challenged, with facilities such as electricity sockets in public places to allow people to recharge electric wheelchairs and ventilators.