Alex’s entry into this world was not without excitement, drama and challenges. Not much has changed since then, and Alex continues to inspire us to this day, with his selfless manner, determination and insatiable love of life.
Alex Max Ma was born at 10pm on the 26th January 1994, surviving a complicated delayed birth. He immediately required oxygen ventilation, after being noticeably irritable, jaundiced (yellow discolouration), hypertonic (extreme muscular tension), hyper-extending, fisting and having no suck. He suffered three seizures, resulting in dystonic posturing on the left hand side of his body. The next day, Alex was transferred to the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in an oxygen head box for perinatal asphyxia. At the hospital, Alex was noted as being very floppy, with twitching to the left side of his face and arm, and was also slow to feed. A cerebral ultrasound showed Alex had a structurally normal brain, but suffered from cerebraloedma consistent with asphyxia. In June, at 16 weeks of age, Alex underwent a neurological examination, which formally identified him as having cerebral palsy.
Within days of the diagnosis, Alex began occupational therapy and physiotherapy at the Allambie Spastic Centre in Sydney, Australia. Within 12 months, Alex was also undergoing Feldenkrais therapy, hydrotherapy and speech therapy, as well as sessions of horse riding and play group. Several trips to China were made in search of alternative therapies and philosophies, which we felt could help in his recovery. Then in January 1999, 5 years after Alex’s diagnosis, it was decided that the family would move permanently to Shenzhen, China so that Alex could undergo intensive acupuncture and acupressure massage treatments as well as intensive herbal therapy which involved drinking herbal teas and bathing daily in a herbal bath. During this period, Alex regularly returned home to Australia to complete 2-4 week sessions of Feldenkrais therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy.
Over the next few years Alex continued with the therapies, resulting in him showing marked differences in movement and communication. Alex’s physical abilities began to develop at age four, with his first unassisted steps. He soon developed the ‘Bunny Hop’ as a way of moving from place to place. Eventually he began walking independently with a pronounced gate (unbalanced step) at age 5. During this time, Alex was also taught sign language, but could often only achieve sounds, and very little language at all. In 2000, when Alex was aged 6, he began an intensive speech program, resulting in a rapid development of his speech abilities. With the support of speech therapy, Alex’s speech has improved year after year. Later that year, Alex underwent relocation of his submandibular gland to reduce his saliva loss, or “drooling” as it more commonly known. This operation was performed by ears, nose and throat specialist Dr. Peter Carter and was 90% successful. Alex’s ability to communicate, whilst challenging to this day, has been marked with significant improvements as time has progressed.
From ages 5 to 8, Alex was schooled under the long-distance education scheme and was one of the few who graduated from their special education program into mainstream education. Alex entered Newport Public School and by keeping with his alternate therapies in China and Australia, was fortunate enough to be welcomed into grade 3, spending 6 weeks of every term at school, then returning to China to be home schooled. This was quite a demanding routine, and so by grade 5, we attempted to enrol Alex fulltime into an American International school in Alex’s hometown in China. During this process, we came across a lot of barriers, but with persistence and the fortune of meeting an embracing school principal, Alex began grade 6 at the Quality Schools International, Shenzhen, where he went onto achieve grade level results, prestigious awards for community service and excellence, as well as, experiencing the joys of competitive chess, coaching volleyball and participating in competitive rugby.
From the age of 9, Alex began another alternative therapy known as Neuro Emotional Technique with Nick Novacs, which Alex passionately embraced, resulting in spiritual, physical and emotional improvements. We also began to notice during this time, the overwhelming benefits of physical strength building with personal trainers and swimming lessons, both of which would be completed in short periods of 4-6 weeks, when the family would return to Australia. Later on in Alex’s life, this initial strength building would become a vital part of Alex’s health and wellbeing. Alex’s development plateaued at 10 years of age, and by age 11, we discovered that, his right leg and foot had begun to turn inwards, making it impossible for him to balance or walk by age 12. During this difficult period, we concentrated on finding alternatives, never giving up hope that Alex would walk again.
As Alex grew, his interests seemed to revolve around his love of sport – in particularly rugby league. His older brothers Matt and Dan would regularly take him to see Manly Sea Eagles play at their home ground when Alex was in Australia, thus beginning his love for the team. In 2006, Alex was fortunate to attend the team’s training and meet the players. Alex was embraced by all of the players and spent a great deal of time talking to Steve Menzies. On that special day, Peter Peters “Zorba” then manager of the Manly Sea Eagles, walked over to where the family was sitting and embraced Alex. It was the beginning of a committed friendship of support and encouragement, which to this day, helps drive Alex and our family in our endeavour to find the best recovery possible for cerebral palsy. Zorba has become a life long friend to Alex, a man that continually shows by example how to live life with strength and integrity. He has become a hero to Alex – a true mate that believes in him and supports him every step of the way.
From that destined meeting, Zorba and the Manly Sea Eagles have played a major role in Alex’s development and zest for life. In March 2007, Alex underwent a major operation to correct his leg muscles, in the hope that he would be able to walk again. Professor Kerr Graham of the Melbourne Children’s Hospital lengthened Alex’s right tibialis posterior muscle, injecting the calf muscle and hamstring muscles with botox, and recommended ground reaction AFO’s (full leg orthotics). Alex underwent a major rehabilitation program with an emphasis on Alex’s walk and stamina. It was here that the Manly Sea Eagles stepped in and through the initiation of Zorba, Alex began a weekly fitness and physio sessions with the Sea Eagles trainers Donnie and Andre. Today, Alex walks unaided with pride and determination.
Years At 14 years of age, Alex continues his daily training with the aid of the Sea Eagles trainers Donnie and Andre and his big brother Daniel, who has taken on the role of personal carer. Daniel helps Alex with his busy daily schedule, as well as looking after his educational needs and providing the love and guidance that only an older brother can. Alex has matured into an incredibly dedicated young man – in more ways than one! He is not only intensely dedicated to the Sea Eagles (he attends ALL of the Sea Eagles games and now sits on the panel of Zorba’s 2KY radio show Zorba to Hollywood every Sunday morning); but with his beautiful, kind spirit, he has developed a dedication to help and motivate others who are challenged physically, spiritually and emotionally.
In the last few years of Alex’s journey, we have witnessed many setbacks, but so many more breakthroughs in Alex. We are continuously grateful to the Manly Sea Eagles Club: the administration, the coach Des Hasler, the trainers Donnie and Andre, the Sea Eagles boys and the fans and supporters of the team, who continuously stop Alex at games an on the street to encourage Alex. When we began Alex’s big dream was to be a member of a professional rugby team, which seemed to us the family, an impossible mission. However, we have learnt throughout Alex’s journey that life holds great surprises, and today, Alex is known as the 18th member of the Manly Sea Eagles team. Although impossible physically, mentally and emotionally Alex is living his dream.