"I thought I was going to die"
Top nursing student at Ngee Ann Poly was volunteering in Nepal when second quake struck
Wanting to help victims of the first Nepal quake, he went there with medical supplies.
But Mr Brandon Chia, 22, nearly became a casualty himself when the second quake struck on Tuesday.
Together with other aid workers, he was in a Hindu temple tending to the injured when the tremors started.
As everyone rushed towards the only exit, he thought he wouldn't make it out alive.
Fortunately, Mr Chia eventually managed to escape unscathed.
Next Wednesday, he will be graduating from Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) as the top nursing student, receiving a diploma with merit in health sciences, with a perfect GPA of 4.0.
The New Paper reported on May 5 about Mr Chia being part of a volunteer team heading to Nepal for humanitarian relief operations.
Mr Chia landed in Nepal on May 6 and was attached to two teams from Crisis Relief Singapore (CRS), a humanitarian relief group.
He was supposed to leave Nepal on Wednesday when the second quake with 7.3 magnitude struck just the day before. A total of 128 people were killed and at least 2,500 were injured.
Mr Chia was in a Hindu temple that was turned into a makeshift clinic, with about 50 other patients and healthcare personnel.
He told TNP that most of the aftershocks they had been experiencing lasted one to two seconds.
But his ordeal on May 12 felt very different -the tremors just went on and on and even caused tiles to fall off the walls.
He recalled that the medics were screaming and shouting at people to evacuate. Patients were soon sprinting out of the clinic, causing a human stampede.
"Someone shouted at me: 'Brandon, get out!
The ground was breaking apart, and I rushed out of the temple as fast as I could, only to see the neighbouring building reduced to dust."
Mr Chia helped to give anti-inflammatory injections to quake victims, and tended to their open wounds during his 7-day trip.
He said: "We were encouraging them, and they were very thankful. Their smiles cheered us up."
The emotional experience also changed his view towards nursing.
He said: "Sometimes, it's not the knowledge or medical skill that is important. It is the therapeutic touch we give that makes the difference."
When asked why he readily volunteered himself for relief work in Nepal, Mr Chia said that nursing was his calling.
When he joined the Singapore Red Cross Society in secondary school, his peers mocked him for participating in a "girl activity".
Despite that, he found joy in taking care of his sick peers, and started educating them about the importance of nursing.
Being born with dyslexia also posed several challenges for him.
He had trouble memorising the names of drugs and muscle groups.
But Mr Chia was determined to learn - he broke the words down and borrowed materials from the school library so he could study at his own pace.
He said: "I would write the word 50 times, 100 times, until I could remember them."
His love for nursing led him to pursue nursing, first at ITE and then NP.
Mr Chia's efforts have paid off. He won a string of awards in NP - the Ngee Ann Polytechnic Outstanding Achievement Award, Lee Kuan Yew Award, Singhealth Gold Medal and Prize, National University Hospital Prize and the Tan Tock Seng Hospital Prize.
His mother, Madam Cheng Li Li, 55, admitted that she was worried when she heard of the conditions in Nepal. But she is proud of her son's desire to help others.
Director of the school of health sciences in NP, Dr Phang Chiew Hun, praised Mr Chia for his exemplary behaviour, and said he embodies the "big-hearted spirit".
Mr Chia is humble about his achievements.
He said: "I hope my story will inspire more young people to step out of their comfort zones and serve others who are in need."