Mrs Renuka Vadivellu has no limbs, the tragic result of amputations after she suffered an asthma attack followed by complications six years ago.

Nevertheless, she manages things at home without a hitch – buying groceries online, providing ideas for dinner, giving emotional support to family members and taking care of grandchildren.

“Supermum is not fiction. She lives among us,” said her son C. Ranjev, 28. “She has always been a great pillar of strength for us.”

Mrs Renuka was sprightly and mobile until she suffered an asthma attack in 2016.

Usually, after asthma attacks, she would be hospitalised for a few days and then return home. But this time it was different.

The asthma attack was accompanied by a string of complications.

Doctors at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital’s emergency ward informed her family members that she was also suffering from pneumonia along with septic shock – organ injury due to bacteria growing in the blood. She was quickly moved to the intensive care unit.

Her condition continued to deteriorate over the next few days and she was placed in a medically-induced coma.

By the third week, her condition had become worse: Her organs were failing and the heart was not pumping blood well. Doctors gave her only three hours to live and decided to give her strong medication to improve her blood flow and save her life.

In rare cases, the medication can cause certain blood vessels to constrict causing gangrene in the limbs.

Mrs Renuka was shocked when she regained consciousness three weeks later.
“My hands and half of my legs were charcoal black,” she said. “I could only move my fingers a little. I had a hole in my throat due to a tracheostomy.

“No voice, failing organs and rotten-looking hands due to a lack of blood flow. I was wondering, ‘why me’? What’s next?”

Being a former nurse, Mrs Renuka understood the medical complications that she suffered. But she was in denial.

Gangrene had set in, and a week later her limbs were amputated to prevent further spread of infection to the rest of her body.

But soon after, Mrs Renuka picked herself up emotionally. She accepted that she had a second chance to live but without hands and legs. Relatives burst into tears when they saw her. But she greeted all with a smile.

“She was greeting visitors by asking them how they were doing and whether they had eaten. I was wondering if she was sane,” said her husband Chandrasegaran P.R., 58.

“I always depended on my wife to manage the house. That was the moment I realised that I had taken her for granted.”

The two-month hospitalisation and treatment cost the family nearly $150,000.

Mrs Renuka hoped to settle the bill with the help of her husband, a marine manager. But, the day after she returned home, he was retrenched. It was another blow. But Ms Renuka resolved to be positive and resilient.

Her younger son Ranjev’s wedding was coming up – three months after her amputations – and she wanted it to be a celebration for the family. She saw it as an opportunity to forget the upheavals that they faced.

Mr Ranjev, 28, and his fiancee Senbagam Thurairajoo, 28, wanted to postpone the wedding.
But Ms Renuka stood firm and said that it should go ahead.

She planned the entire event and presented herself with pride on the stage as the groom’s parent.

Ms Senbagam, who considers Mrs Renuka as her mother and good friend, said: “She is the strongest person I have ever had the privilege to know. Even after losing her limbs, she was heavily involved in our wedding preparations – choosing the wedding sari, arranging the priest to conduct the rituals and selecting the design of the goodie bag.

“She put on makeup and wore a beautiful sari on my wedding day and welcomed all the guests.”
Last year, Mrs Renuka was also hit by bullous pemphigoid – a rare skin condition that causes large blisters.

“Even the loss of limbs were not so painful. But the terrible itch I had to go through due to this condition made me suicidal,” she said.

Although she needs the assistance of a caregiver now, Mrs Renuka still plays an important role in managing the family’s affairs. She goes regularly to the market with her elder son C. Vikknesan, 29, to buy fish.

Using her stumps, she orders groceries online and communicates with relatives and friends via whatsapp.

She also takes care of her grandsons Rudhran and Mitran, ensuring they have sufficient food and sleep.

“She has conquered many obstacles. We were all distraught over the incident, but my mother speeded up our recovery,” said Mr Vikknesan, a nurse.

“She was very strong. She never cried in front of us. After returning home, she behaved like how she always used to. And that helped us to move on.

“Her life was riddled with hurdles and difficulties, but she managed to cross them all because she is an amazing and independent person.”

Despite being on strong medication, Mrs Renuka spoke at the amputee support group forum on April 27 at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital. She shared her experience with limb loss.

Principal physiotherapist Davina Koh, who provided therapy to Mrs Renuka for almost three months, said that Mrs Renuka showed tremendous grit and perseverance and had never once wallowed in self pity.

“When I lost my limbs, people saw me differently,” said Mrs Renuka.

“Close relatives and friends slowly moved away from my family. It doesn’t matter. I have lost my limbs, but not my fighting spirit.

“Be positive, trust in yourself, challenge and face any problems that come your way.”

“When I lost my limbs, people saw me differently. Close relatives and friends slowly moved away from my family. It doesn’t matter. I have lost my limbs, but not my fighting spirit.” – Mrs Renuka Vadivellu

This article was republished with the permission of Tamil Murasu