How a paralysed former firefighter is using his tragedy to inspire others

Alice Yan
·4-min read

A severely paralysed former firefighter who struggled with mental health issues after the accident is now inspiring other people in similar situations and helping them find happiness in life.

Zhu Mingjun, a 29-year-old man from Anqui in eastern China’s Shandong province, took a serious fall while on duty on July 9, 2013, and was paralysed from the neck down. Zhu still relies on a ventilator to help him breath and he could not talk for three years after the accident.

For about two years, Zhu struggled to grapple with his quadriplegia, even attempting suicide on multiple occasions. “I told my mother just to pull out my breathing tube. It would only take me several minutes to die and I would not suffer any pains, I said. Whenever I talked about this topic, my mother kept on crying, and me too,” said Zhu in an interview with ThePaper.cn.

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Zhu struggled with his mental health after a serious accident left him paralysed. Photo: Baidu
Zhu struggled with his mental health after a serious accident left him paralysed. Photo: Baidu

But in 2016, Zhu’s life began a turnaround when he met a psychology teacher who provided emotional support during Zhu’s darkest times. Now, helping others get through their mental anguish has become his purpose in life.

“My life attitude is to learn to accept [the reality], respond proactively and look forward to the future,” Zhu told the South China Morning Post.

At the end of 2016, he passed a national certification test to work as a psychology consultant. Lying on his bed, Zhu’s mother would often have to physically move him to the proper position to communicate with his clients. The process can take upwards of 30 minutes.

But, Zhu can make a profound difference because he can truly empathise with others going through a similar situation.

“I experienced despair as they do. I also cried bitterly and my mind collapsed. I regard them as my peers,” he told ThePaper.cn

Zhu said it took him awhile to adjust to being someone who helped people to needing to rely on others just to survive. Photo: Baidu
Zhu said it took him awhile to adjust to being someone who helped people to needing to rely on others just to survive. Photo: Baidu

For example, one of the major hurdles Zhu had to grapple with was that, in just one moment, he became a person who helped others to someone who constantly relies on people throughout the day.

“I even need a machine to stay alive,” said Zhu. “I asked myself, ‘is it a dream?’, and my answer is ‘this is reality’.”

Having gone through this mental journey, Zhu said he could connect with other paralysed individuals. The camaraderie is especially important with young clients.

“Obtaining young students’ trust is very important,” said Zhu. “First, I need them to understand that I am in a similar position as them. Then I try to change their outlook.”

Zhu said he charges fees for adults but not for minors.

Zhu was severely paralysed after taking a serious fall during a military exercise in 2013. Photo: Baidu
Zhu was severely paralysed after taking a serious fall during a military exercise in 2013. Photo: Baidu

In 2018, Zhu decided to go more public with his words of inspiration. He started delivering speeches at squares in his hometown of Anqui. In the beginning, Zhu was self-conscious if others would judge his appearance, but that soon went away because the “applause from strangers gave me strength”.

Now Zhu has turned to live streaming, joining Bilibili in January. He live streams for 2.5 hours every evening to about 80,000 followers. One of his early videos about his experience has been viewed 3 million times.

“My mother is worried about me, saying it’s exhausting to have non-stop conversations for such a long time. But I like talking with my fans. It’s an unprecedented experience. It’s like a dream and I fear it will disappear immediately,” Zhu told Thepaper.cn.

Zhu is also trying to make the most of what remains of his life. After the accident, doctors said he probably had about 15-20 years left to live because his organs were likely to be affected due to his inability to walk.

“Live streaming has changed my life dramatically. I have got to know too many new friends [through live streaming]. I am not alone like before. I am enjoying the happiness brought by live streaming. On top of that, I can earn money from it,” he told the Post.

As for the future, Zhu said he hoped the medical industry could be advanced enough to help him stand up.

“At present, I have a plan of opening a psychological workshop of my own to help more people and cure them,” said Zhu.

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