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Mixed agony and hope for China quake survivors
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Everyone in the rehabilitation center for May 12 quake survivors in the West China Hospital wants to recover as much as possible through different therapies. Tian Fugang has a bigger dream.

The ceiling of his factory collapsed in the 8.0-magnitude earthquake, which caused nearly 70,000 deaths, and hit his lumbar vertebra. When he woke up from the coma because of the excessive pain, he could no longer feel his legs.

Now, every day, the 22-year-old former technician, who was paralysed in the devastating quake in southwest Sichuan Province walks with special facility supporting his body for three to four hours, trains on parallel bars for half an hour and has acupuncture therapy for one hour. He has done so for nearly two months.

In the rest of the time, the thing he likes to do most is learning to use his wheelchair.

At first, he learnt different skills from the therapists, including supporting with the back wheels, getting back to the chair after falling down, moving between his wheelchair and bed, and a more difficult one, climbing stairs.

"He always managed to learn them very quickly," said Ding Mingfu, deputy director of the rehabilitation center.

Now, Tian invented his own skill.

"I can climb a slope, which is as narrow as my wheelchair, and turn around the wheelchair on the top of it," he said proudly, with a smile on his baby face.

The therapists found he had a talent in sports and suggested he consider to be an athlete. Tian thought it a good idea. That's why he did a lot of training to improve his physical ability.

Next door, some ten survivors gathered to watch a soap opera. Liu Fang, 13, joined them after finishing her Chinese class upstairs. She laughed together with her wardmates when the heroine of the South Korean comedy was embarrassed by her lover. Her fair cheeks turned pink.

"She never spoke to anybody when she first came to the center two months ago, nor did she smile," Ding Mingfu said.

The girl could only sit in a wheelchair with a belt holding her in after being paralysed in one of the aftershocks.

"I'm much better now. I could only sit in the wheelchair for a little while two months ago, but now I can sit for two hours," Liu said.

The rehabilitation center accepted more than 160 people who had been disabled by the quake, and some 100 people have recovered and left the center.

"Our definition for recovery is the patient's body function has reached the highest level it can do," Ding said.

It provided speech, occupational, acupuncture, psychological therapies and physiotherapy, as well as training for using artificial limbs.

"Rehabilitation is important for them to obtain a better life quality over the rest of their life," Ding said, adding that without proper rehabilitation, the disabled would have a lesser ability to take care of themselves, which would be a greater burden for their families.

Local health authorities have planned a three-level rehabilitation system, composed of three provincial rehabilitation centers, six city centers and community centers.

However, as modern rehabilitation has only developed in China for less than 30 years, in comparison with the 80-year-history of the subject, China lacks professional staff, rehabilitation centers and facilities.

More than 350,000 people in Sichuan alone were injured in the quake, and among them, some 100,000 were hospitalized. Many of them are in need of rehabilitation after leaving hospitals.

However, there are not enough professional doctors, therapists and nurses for rehabilitation in the city-level centers and even no rehabilitation center in the communities, not to mention those who live in the remote mountainous areas. This time, many quake-battered regions were rural areas.

Sichuan has been providing rehabilitation therapies to nearly 6,000 people and the search for injured people who need it in remote areas is still under way, according to local health authorities.

"What we can do now is to try our best to treat every single patient we have here in the center," Ding said, adding that they not only trained the patients with basic living skills, but also think about ways for them to live on.

Although Liu Fang still could not figure out her future, the doctors have found a job of decorator in east China's Jiangsu Province for her father.

"At least the family can have a stable income in the future to support her," Ding said.

The therapists also sent Tian Fugang's information to local disabled persons' federation, recommending him to get professional sports training.

"I'm still waiting for the reply," he said, adding that if there wasn't a promising future for him, he would break up with his girlfriend, whom he had spent nearly four years with.

Tian, who loved playing football before the disaster, said he would play wheelchair basketball or wheelchair tennis if he was chosen.

"I dreamt to compete at the Paralympics one day," he said.

(Xinhua News Agency November 9, 2008)

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