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Walking the Talk with Nigel Wong

For Children's Day, the Healthcare Scholarships team caught up with Nigel Wong, a Prosthetist and Orthotist working in KK Women's and Children's Hospital. He specialises in helping children regain their function, or prevent deterioration, through the making and fitting of orthotic devices and braces. He shares more about his work and how his young patients have impacted his life. 

1. Tell me more about yourself

Hi, I'm Nigel, a Prosthetist and Orthotist (P&O for short) working in KK Women's and Children's hospital. I specialise in paediatric orthotics; i.e. providing orthotic treatment for children! 

2. Can you tell me more about what exactly do you do as a P&O?

In general, P&O is a combination of 2 different disciplines that have similar foundational knowledge. Prosthetics is the study of artificial replacements, and in healthcare it is to do with missing body parts; mainly the limbs. Orthotics is the study of assistive technology and devices that help support and correct parts of the body that might be suffering from certain healthcare problems. We work very closely with the doctors and other allied health professions such as physiotherapists to provide the best care for our patients!

I mainly see children (including babies!) and adolescents for treatment of various conditions, ranging from musculoskeletal problems (such as scoliosis, flat feet, skeletal deformities) to neurological issues (such as cerebral palsy, spinal injuries). This entails the prescription, design, fabrication, and adjustments of the devices we make. I also teach and provide advice on the usage of these orthoses (the devices) and provide some counsel on the various conditions to the patients and family members.  

3. Was working with children something you always envisioned yourself doing? 

Honestly, no! I've always wanted to work in healthcare but never did think for a moment that I'd be focused on working with children. It was only after an attachment in an overseas paediatric hospital where I worked with children who were amputees that I became passionate and found great fulfilment in working with children.

Working with children has widened my perspectives about them. Before, I have always thought that children are just here with their parents to be treated; in a sense "just come, listen and do". However, through my work and interactions with children I've come to appreciate and learn that each child is unique and has their own thoughts and ideas. It is so important to connect with them and get to know them as a person! I feel very much for them now as they are carrying the hopes of the future with them, and I am privileged to play a small part in shaping that. 

4. What are the best parts about working with children?

The sense of fulfilment and watching them grow! My job blesses me in the aspect of continuity with the patients I see – so I see them grow up through the years. I always joke with most of them that I’m like their big brother, seeing them grow up and mature and change along the way. You watch how your own interactions and professional help impact their lives and aid their life journey! Working with children is more than just providing them with healthcare treatment, but also involves counselling and encouragement. Seeing some of them “graduate” from our service here and living the best life that they can, brings me indescribable joy.

5. What are some of the challenges working with children?

Getting them to understand the complexities and importance of the treatments can be challenging. No child would want to wear a brace in hot and humid Singapore, especially if they cannot understand why they need to wear one. When working with children, it is not only the children whom you work with. Most of the time, we also work closely with their loved ones including their parents and other members of the family. While it is fulfilling, making an impact in the lives of our patients through our work, it is also a great responsibility, as the treatment or advice I give would determine how they will move and how they will continue to live their lives every day. 

6. Can you share one memorable story of a client that touched your life? 

I would say most of my interactions with my patients have touched my life in one way or another, but I will share 2 instances. The first was when I was treating a child who had no legs, and made her a pair of prosthetic limbs. She took her first steps in them and by the end of the day was gleefully walking around and playing. I will never forget that feeling of seeing someone's life change in an instant with something you made.

The second is closer to home. It was more of the child's parent that touched my life. Her child had special needs and required a lot of complex care. I saw this challenging case when I was still relatively new to the field and back then the child did not display much significant improvement, which can happen on occasion, despite our best efforts. However, the child's mother never lost the smile on her face despite the challenging circumstances. Instead, she was always encouraging during our sessions with her child and it reminded me why I joined the profession in the first place – to make a difference no matter how big or small. The mother's positive attitude and resilience left a mark on me and will continue to spur me on to do better. 

7. Anything you would like to say to the children in light of Children's Day today? 

Some wise words to guide you as it did me: "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; but time and chance happen to them all". Make a difference wherever you go, stay happy, active, and inquisitive! Happy Children's Day!