Bouncing back from childhood stroke

Chee: If I hadn’t asked for help, my journey would have been so much more difficult.

THROUGHOUT her schooling years, licensed counsellor Chareessa Chee had difficulty understanding numbers and remembering what she had been taught.

In addition, she could only rely on her right hand, which made completing assignments and test papers all the more challenging.

This was the result of a stroke she suffered when she was only nine, leading to her being diagnosed with congenital arteriovenous malformations, which are abnormal tangles of blood vessels that disrupt normal blood flow and oxygen circulation.

“I had to relearn various basic functions such as walking, talking, memory recall, and carrying out daily activities.

“I also had to learn how to ask for help and allow others to help me when I couldn’t complete a task, which was a very humbling process,” she told StarEdu.

Feeling “different” from her peers and “incredibly self-conscious” was another challenge she had to overcome.

“My earliest memory of feeling this way was when I had to sit out each physical education class,” the 31-year-old shared.

But Chee persevered throughout the process of rebuilding her life.

“The more I worked on physiotherapy, the more I regained some of those functions I had lost,” she said, adding, “I had to be very patient with what I couldn’t do, and accept that multiple failures and self-rediscovery were part of the process.”She also found a way to cope with her studies.

“Working to my strengths helped at that time. Being an auditory learner, I found that making notes through audio helped me retain information much better.

“Consequently, I became creative with problem-solving and was more efficient in how I worked,” she explained.

With encouragement from her parents, Chee, who was intrigued with the intricacies of human behaviour, went on to study psychology at Sunway University and later obtained her master’s degree in counselling at HELP University.

“It was a natural push for me to pursue counselling. I am incredibly fortunate to have met counsellors who inspired me and were able to talk me into pursuing it as a career,” she said.

Crediting her lecturers for nurturing her interest in counselling during her undergraduate years, she said they also helped her emotionally and allowed her to consider new ways of learning, such as taking effective notes and playing to her strengths.

“The support from my lecturers was invaluable to me. They told me that my dreams were attainable and regularly encouraged me to go for them.

“If I hadn’t asked for help, my journey would have been so much more difficult,” she asserted.

She also expressed gratitude to the counsellors at the varsity who helped her manage her “stress, depression and anxiety” in coping with her studies and life.

“I am grateful that amid the challenges, I was very supported and given various opportunities to focus on my interests,” she said.

Despite having had her medical condition treated with surgery, Chee has had to live with some permanent brain injuries and chronic daily migraines, causing her to be “in pain 24/7”.

She, however, is glad that accommodations for people with illnesses and disabilities are improving and there is greater awareness about their needs compared to what she had to endure.

Looking back on her journey, she said her main takeaway is that there is no straightforward path or only one way to pursue one’s dreams.

“Everyone’s path is different and that’s okay. Even if we don’t have everything figured out, we just have to take the step forward and trust that we’ll figure out what we need along the way,” she said.

Chee, who advocates for mental health, urged youths who are struggling with their studies to seek support.

“It’s better to seek help immediately than allow things to fester as they would become larger issues to tackle. Support is available only if you want it.

“Be yourself fully as you navigate your journey as a student. While it may not mean that you no longer experience self-doubt or limiting beliefs, it may lead you to discover parts of yourself you didn’t know you have,” she said.

Shinz Jo, 18, a student in Selangor, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Programme run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team.

Now that you have read the article, test your understanding by carrying out the following English language activities.

1. Perseverance helped Chee rebuild her life. Take a good look at the word “perseverance”. How many words can you form from the letters in the word?

2. Flip through today’s copy of the Sunday Star newspaper. Can you find three examples where perseverance is practised?

3. Imagine that you are attending a job interview. You are asked to give an example of a time perseverance helped you overcome a challenge. How would you answer it?

4. In the article, Chee is quoted as saying: “If I hadn’t asked for help, my journey would have been so much more difficult.” Do you know whom you can approach when you need help? List three people to whom you can reach out when faced with difficulties.

5. Look in the newspaper for a person who would benefit from some help. Imagine you were the person featured. How would you ask for help? What kind of help would you need? To whom would you reach out for help? With an activity partner, role-play the scenario. Your activity partner will represent the person or organisation who can potentially help you.

Since 1997, The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme has supported English language teaching and learning in primary and secondary schools nationwide. Now in its 25th year, Star-NiE is continuing its role of promoting the use of English language through a weekly activity page in StarEdu. In addition, Star-NiE’s BRATs Young Journalist Programme will continue to be a platform for participants to hone and showcase their English language skills, as well as develop their journalistic interests and instincts. Follow our updates at For Star-NiE enquiries, email

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