Aussie soldier helps raise funds for Indian teen

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It’s a cross-continental story of mateship and inspiration, writes MANPREET K SINGH

Here is a story which incredibly links an Australian soldier’s gruelling push up regime to an Indian teenager with a profound disability, the Tour de France and Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital…
Like any other 18-year-old, Fateh Whig loves sport, but it was only recently in Melbourne that he got to play his first real game of basketball – and tennis and boxing, while also getting to trying out some pretty “cool” physio equipment. All this came about, thanks to a gruelling push-ups regime undertaken by Brigadier Bill Sowry in London, which made the Indian teenager’s rehab program possible, at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s’ Hospital.
Nearly two decades ago, Bill Sowry was friends with Fateh’s father, Major Mohit Whig, an Indian army officer, who was tragically killed in an explosion in Kashmir in 1997.

Born in the Indian city of Chandigarh, Fateh has lived with Spina bifida all his life, having little or no control over his bowel, bladder and legs. Although Fateh received excellent medical intervention in India, with expert surgeries to his spine, brain, bladder and more, specialist rehab care was missing. The family looked towards the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne for better management of his condition, but that would cost tens of thousands of dollars.
That’s where an old friend, Brigadier Bill Sowry, stepped in and undertook the incredible PUFF challenge – or Pushups for Fateh Challenge – which involved four push-ups for every kilometre of the Tour de France. Through generous contributions from all around the world, nearly $60,000 was raised, enabling Fateh to receive rehab at the Royal Children’s’ Hospital in Melbourne, during June and July this year.
The Whig family came to Melbourne with very modest expectations and realistic goals. During his three weeks at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Fateh was introduced to a new bowel management program, learnt better wheelchair skills and received advanced physiotherapy, even achieving his personal goal of learning how to shave. Melbourne proved to be a really positive experience for Fateh, who couldn’t believe how “child-friendly” the hospital was, and the confidence it helped him build.

Dr Adam Scheinberg oversaw Fateh’s rehab program at the Royal Children’s Hospital’s Paediatric Rehabilitation Clinic. Calling Fateh a “bright young boy” who learnt many new skills in a short period of time, he feels that Fateh has the potential to gain full independence in the future. Recounting Fateh’s achievements during the program at RCH, Dr Scheinberg said, “Fateh has learnt a new program for his bowel care. We can’t underestimate that as an achievement for a young man, and he’s a bright boy, he learnt that very quickly. We were very pleased with that. There were some other goals – they were really nice goals set by Fateh. For instance he wanted to learn how to shave and he achieved that during the time. There was some meal preparation, pressure management and so forth.”
Dr Scheinberg added, “I have no doubt that in 10 years from now, Fateh can be a practicing lawyer in India.”
Brigadier Bill Sowry, who is Australia’s Defence Attaché in the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Netherlands, believes that this is the start of a journey for Fateh, and feels heartened by the generosity of people around the world, saying, “Whether you’re a Manpreet or a Bill or a Stefan or a John, people anywhere in the world have goodness and generosity.” And he’s already planning ahead for Fateh, wanting to buy a new wheelchair with the residual funds, even wanting to fund his education. And though he’s hoping that it doesn’t involve any more push-ups, he says with certainty, “All that Puffing was definitely worth it.”

As for Fateh, he was greatly buoyed by his Melbourne experience. Before coming over for the rehab program, between surgeries and hospital admissions, he had achieved outstanding results (95% marks) in his year 12 exams. He has now won a scholarship in India to pursue a university degree, and will commence studies in International Law soon. Before leaving Melbourne though, he had a special message for anyone suffering with Spina bifida, or with any other disability, encouraging everyone to dream big.
“It doesn’t really matter. You have to carry on with what you’re doing. You don’t have to think about your disability. Just carry on with what you’re doing,” Fateh said.
Reprinted with permission from SBS Punjabi

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