By David Lee, 11 February 2013
It is an illness that left her bedridden, paralysed and wheelchair-bound for more than a year, and it caused her to suffer countless seizures and even a cardiac arrest.
At one dark moment, her debilitating condition even made the former school sprinter and accomplished model believe she was better off dead.
Incredibly, to this day, neither Wendy Jacobs nor her doctors know what is wrong with her.
In the first interview Fandi Ahmad’s wife has ever granted to talk about her mystery illness, the 38-year-old was candid about her harrowing experience.
She said: “Up to this day, there is no diagnosis. I had problems moving my limbs, I couldn’t see out of my right eye, I was in a wheelchair, I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t talk... medically, there was something wrong, but the doctors just could not tell me what.”
But many others had their theories. The most common one? That she had been “cursed” by black magic while she was living in Jakarta with Fandi from 2007 to 2011.
Jacobs said: “Do I believe in bomohs (traditional medicine man) and black magic? I can’t tell you. I’ve never believed in things like that.
“But if even the doctors in Jakarta can tell me, ‘It’s not a medical issue, send her somewhere else... get this bomoh... and all that’, then what do you say?”
Not having any idea of what she was suffering from nor a clear prescription of how to cure her illness made life “hell”, said Jacobs.
“I did think of giving up,” said the mother of five. “I think I did go through a stage where I said, ‘That’s it, no more’.
“No more pills, no more doctors, if it happens now and I pass out, don’t take me back to the hospital, let it just happen.”
Even less than a fortnight ago, she suffered one of her infrequent epileptic seizures, which typically occur following warning signs such as the twitching of her eyes.
But Jacobs, who was born in South Africa, said that she is taking it all in her stride now. “Never dwell on the past, keep moving forward, that’s my philosophy now,” said Jacobs, who met The New Paper at a cafe at Paragon Shopping Centre.
Even her family has learnt to cope with her illness. Said Jacobs: “They know exactly what to do, they’re so good. Even my little one, my six-year-old son Iryan, knows exactly what to do.
“They would say, ‘You need to get this for mummy, you need to put this in her mouth, and then you take this tablet afterwards.’
“And they always ask, ‘Mummy do you have your tablets in your bag?’
“Because I could be walking in the shops, and if I start feeling funny, I need to sit down and take a pill... to stop that or to at least let it slow down so I can get home, or at least get to my car and start calming myself down.”
Jacobs, who looked radiant in a casual white top and black pants during the two-hour interview, readily admitted she is “still not 100 per cent”.
The former model, who sashayed ever so professionally for a photoshoot for this story, added: “I am very blessed to be back to maybe about 70 per cent, which is great, considering how I was at 10 per cent.
“If you take away a few things, I’m still 50 per cent away. For example, I can’t go off medication to control my seizures.
“I now take seven at night, three in the morning. That’s really good, going from the 20 to 30 pills per day in the past.”
Her nightmare illness started in July 2008, when she fell in the bathroom at their family home in Jakarta.
Jacobs said: “Fandi saw me slip. I didn’t feel anything (was) wrong. I don’t know if I hit my head, but I felt fine. I got up and I then went to lie on the bed and sleep.
“The next morning, I had problems moving my limbs, I started to losing control of my limbs, I started having fits.
“If I could tell you more I would, but I cannot remember. The entire year was a blur to me. All I know was it deteriorated very badly – from going to one hospital, staying there for two weeks, and going to another hospital and staying there for two weeks.”
However, doctors in three hospitals in Jakarta could not determine the cause of her illness and Jacobs was sent home, where a mini-hospital was set up – complete with monitors, doctors and nurses – to tend to her.
At that point, those around her expected the worst. “My parents were flown in from South Africa with my sister telling them that it didn’t look like I was going to get through it,” she said.
“I was sent home in Jakarta to just (die). While I was being stabilised at home in Jakarta, I went into cardiac arrest and I was rushed to a hospital close by again, and from that hospital that evening in February 2009, they flew me via a private SOS plane back to Singapore.”
She was admitted into the intensive care unit at Gleneagles Hospital, where she was placed in an induced coma so that her body could rest and recover.
In Singapore, Jacobs’ condition improved after two months of hospitalisation, and she credits the support of her family and friends for her gradual recovery.
She said: “I had Muslims, Christians, Buddhists praying for me and I thank each and every one of them.”
After being discharged, she recuperated at family friend and former international R. Sasikumar’s place, where she was kept hidden from the media and public.
Even though she felt like giving up at times, Fandi’s faith and the fear of losing her children kept her fighting.
“My biggest fear then was dying, and leaving Fandi behind with five kids,” she said. “Who is going to look after my kids and who is going to take someone with five kids?
“I can’t pinpoint the day when I stood up and said, ‘I can walk now’.
“It took about six months for me to be able to talk to the kids properly, to start doing basic things like bathing, and then walking around, getting back to walking in the malls, driving... things like that. It was baby steps.”
Jacobs eventually recovered enough to feel confident about making her first appearance in a public event, when her husband launched the Fandi Ahmad Academy at Safra Tampines in March 2011.
She said: “I was still feeling apprehensive then, but early last year, I thought I want to get a bit out of my shell and do a bit more.”
But there was another setback in her long road to recovery when a benign tumour the size of a 50-cent coin was found to be growing at the front of her head, and she had to go through surgery to remove it last July.
Ever the feisty woman, Jacobs was in hospital for less than two weeks before insisting on taking the morphine off and being discharged.
She could even joke about it, and said: “They had to remove the tumour before it hit the brain. As it was under the skull, they had to perform an open cranial operation, which meant pulling down my face.
“I was hoping they could help give me a facelift and tighten a bit here and there!”
So what does the future hold for Jacobs, who has had such an eventful life even before hitting the 40-year mark?
“With five kids, people see me as a super mummy, but not a hot mama,” she joked.
With a hearty laugh, she added: “I still want to be a hot mama, of course!
“I still haven’t experienced my ‘it’ moment. I’ve done so much, but there’s just this one thing I haven’t done. I don’t know what it is, but when it happens, it’s going to be ‘Wow! Now I’ve done everything.’”
Jacobs proceeded to rattle off her to-do list, which includes making a comeback to the modelling and entertainment industry, hosting events, endorsing products she believes in, doing charity work and even becoming a writer.
She added: “I would love to do magazines, I would love to talk about women issues, children, because this is what I know.
“Everyone is telling me to write an autobiography and it’s something I would like to work on.
“As I don’t remember everything that happened, maybe my close friends can all write something and we could have a compilation of everyone’s feelings in the book.
“It would work if we can find a good publisher and I think people would be interested to know what happened, all the weird things, I think.”
Today, while Jacobs still suffers from the occasional seizure, she is doing well enough to be able to drive her children to and from school, as well as to run errands, manage the family’s finances, and even teach personal and corporate gourmet etiquette at ITE Central on an assignment basis.
There remains one chapter she wishes she can eventually include in her story – a final, accurate diagnosis of what exactly caused her illness.
She said: “It is annoying to be going through all this and not knowing exactly why. So yes, I would like to know one day what is the cause. That would be some form of closure.”
For now, she is thankful for the small things. Jacobs also firmly believes she is well on the road to recovery, which is why she has decided to open up about her illness now.
“I hope my story can inspire others who are in seemingly hopeless situations to stay positive, keep the faith and press on,” said Jacobs.
COLUMN: Before Fandi, I talked to her when no one else would
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