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Everest leader is paralysed

Fellow climber says Mr David Lim is getting better and doctors are weaning him off the respirator -- taking him off it for up to 10 hours every day

By ALLISON LIM

EVEREST climber David Lim, who has been paralysed from the neck down since he was diagnosed with a rare nerve disorder last month, is said to be getting better.

Doctors were weaning him off the respirator which he had been hooked onto ever since he was warded in the National University Hospital's intensive care unit on June 16, said fellow climber Justin Lean.

It is understood that Mr Lim is spending up to 10 hours every day breathing without the help of the machine.

"He is getting better," said Mr Lean, 24, an undergraduate, adding that Mr Lim was looking more rested now compared to a few weeks ago.

Mr Lim, who captained the Singapore Everest Team, is suffering from Guillain--Barre (pronounced ghee-yan bah-ray) Syndrome, where the peripheral nerves, those outside the spinal cord and brain, become inflamed and malfunction.

This weakens the victim's muscles and can sometimes lead to paralysis.

Medical literature indicates that symptoms begin to show between five days and three weeks after a mild infection, a surgery or an immunisation.

Doctors at the National University Hospital declined to speak about Mr Lim's condition.

They said his family had not given their consent to do so.

Only close friends and relatives are allowed to see him.

Mr Lim had been suffering from stomach trouble even while he was in Nepal.

He returned to Singapore on June 7 and was warded a week later.

Mr Lean said that Mr Lim, a 33-year-old multimedia executive, could not speak but was conscious and alert.

He added that last week, Mr Lim underwent plasmapheresis, a treatment option open to doctors to control the syndrome.

In this procedure, the patient's blood is passed through a machine which washes out toxic substances in it.

Purified blood is returned to the body.

"David still responds to us when we visit him. He can nod and shake his head," said Mr Lean.


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"You should come over here and see me, and you'll realise how blessed you are."
-- Ms Pong Seow Chin

From a tragic fall, she's now a role model

Jul 6, 1998

IPOH resident Pong Seow Chin is not bitter about anything.

Not even the fact that she has no legs and must, therefore, struggle to do the things most people take for granted.

Ms Pong, 32, was born able-bodied, reports the Malaysian Sun Megazine.

But she became very ill at 19, while she was pregnant with twins.

She lost them.

"Perhaps God loves them more than I can," she said, recalling how she came to terms with their death.

While recovering from the illness, she suffered a fall and was paralysed from the neck down.

She spent two years in a hospital, during which time her husband left her.

She told the magazine there had been occasions when she was suicidal.

She said killing herself was out of the question -- but only because nobody would help her do it and she couldn't do it by herself.

While recovering, she found herself cheering up while she cheered others up in her ward.

She offered them hope, she said.

For instance, she managed to make a suicidal elderly amputee realise that, at least, the latter had one artificial leg and could walk.

She told the other woman: "You should come over here and see me, and you'll realise how blessed you are."

By the time Ms Pong was taken home, she had bed sores. She also had gangrenous legs, which had to be amputated.

But she eventually regained the use of the upper part of her body.

In 1990, her lot in life improved vastly with help from the Sultan Idris Shah Foundation for the Disabled (YSIS).

A leak in her roof was repaired, a generator was installed at her home to provide light, her house was extended to provide a bigger working area and home-based jobs were found for her.

The foundation also helped her to move around and provided activities in which she could socialise.

These days, she moves about by pushing herself on a custom-made wooden trolley fitted with rollers.

She supports herself by selling hand-crafted goods and making toys, shoes and paper boxes for joss-sticks.

Recently, the Sultan of Perak gave her an award for being a role model to other disabled people and helping them cope with their disabilities.


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Picture: Ms Tang Shengli is surrounded by members of the Chinese media on her arrival at a Beijing hospital
A heroine: Ms Tang Shengli is surrounded by members of the Chinese media on her arrival at a Beijing hospital.

Picture: The will to survive - Ms Tang Shengli in her hospital room
The will to survive: Ms Tang Shengli (top) in her hospital room and (below) walking in the garden
Picture: The will to survive - Ms Tang Shengli walking in the garden



From a tragic fall,
she's now walking tall

BY HAZEL TAN
Jul 6, 1998

She jumped from a second-storey window to escape prostitution last November, thinking death was a solution to her plight. Ms Tang Shengli survived. But she became paralysed waist down. Doctors told her she would never walk again. Our reporter was in for a surprise when she visited the Sichuan native in a Beijing hospital recently

From tears...

FATE changed for Ms Tang Shengli when she left her poor village in Sichuan, about 300 km away from Chengdu, for the city to look for a job on Nov 6.

After days of job-hunting, Ms Tang, 24, and her friend, Ms Jiang Hongmei, were approached by a couple and two young girls, who looked barely 15, and offered jobs as waitresses in a restaurant.

The boss, in his 40s, offered to pay the duo RMB 300 a month ($60) and to provide them with food. That was three times more than what they could expect back home.

But the restaurant turned out to be the Tianya Nightclub, in the town of Meishan, about 150 km from Chengdu. And their real job was to be prostitutes.

The next two days, she was made to entertain clients. Luckily for her, the men did not take a fancy to her because she was too passive.

Ms Tang and Ms Jiang wanted out.

"I am a very old-fashioned and stubborn girl,'' she told The New Paper in Mandarin. "Some people may not bat an eyelid about doing that kind of thing (prostitution), but not me. It's a life not meant for a human being.''

But the only way out was the main door, and it was always locked.

"So, I decided to jump,'' said the petite 1.45-m-tall Ms Tang.

She plunged 6 m from a second-storey of the shophouse where they stayed.

"At that moment, it was a do or die situation. And I chose the latter.''

Ms Jiang, 21, was to jump after her, but she backed out after she saw her friend lying motionless on the ground.

Said Ms Jiang, who has been taking care of Ms Tang since her fall: "When I saw her lying there on the ground, I thought she was dead. I didn't dare follow. And I am glad I didn't do it. But we are happy now, everything is over and going well, better than we expected.''

Added Ms Tang: "I would have taken the same course even if I had to choose all over again."

She lost the use of her legs and was shattered. So was her 58-year-old farmer father, who rushed to the hospital after he learnt of the incident.

He wept. "He kept thinking what I was going to do should he leave me (and die)," said Ms Tang, who used to work in a factory back home.

"And he kept saying if I had listened to him and stayed in the village, this wouldn't have happened. But I told him it was fate. Some things are destined. If I had known what was to befall me, I, too, would not have left home."

Ms Tang's mother died two years ago. His father has remarried. Her elder siblings are married and she has a step-brother from her father's second marriage.

She recalled her despair after the fall. "At the beginning, I used to cry myself to sleep each night. Everyone who came to visit me told me to be brave, to hang on, and that things would get better, that I would recover after an operation.

"But I didn't get any better. I was giving up hope gradually."

At the beginning, I used to cry myself to sleep each night. Everyone who came to visit me told me to be brave, to hang on, and that things would get better, that I would recover after an operation.

But I didn't get any better. I was giving up hope gradually.

...to cheers

FEAR has, over the months, turned to cheer for Ms Tang Shengli.

When I visited her in hospital in Beijing recently, it was springtime in the Chinese capital - and Ms Tang had a spring in her step.

She was walking.

Outdoors, it was shining. And so was she.

Ms Tang had every reason to be in high spirits. She was on her feet again after having been told she would be paralysed forever.

"It's a miracle," Ms Tang, 24, told The New Paper in Mandarin.

"Even the doctors said that to me. They said there is usually a slim chance for victims who have fallen from that height to recover (from the paralysis) and have their feet touch ground again.''

But when all seemed bleak, a miracle happened.

One day in February, about four months after her fall, Ms Tang suddenly "felt something" in her legs, which had been numb until then.

"I thought my legs could feel something. I told the doctors. And they asked me to try walking. They suggested that I undergo therapy. And I was surprised to learn that I could manage," she said, with a smile.

"My hopes were raised again.''

Since then, she has been undergoing therapy sessions - six each day, 45 minutes each session.

And is she doing well.

We took walks in the garden. She walked, using her wheelchair as support. It wasn't easy but she never gave in.

Her steps were small, but firm.

Many times I asked if she needed to stop and take a rest, and each time, she declined.

"Don't you worry. I can manage," she assured me. Perhaps, she knows her path in life ahead is tougher, and even lonely. Said Ms Tang: "I was told that the most optimistic situation is to walk around with a walking stick."

One thing, though: She can't control her bowel movements, she whispered.

"It's embarrassing. My doctor told me one of my nerves is damaged, that's why I can't feel anything when I want to go to the toilet," she said.

She would probably remain single, she added.

"I don't want to be a burden to others. I want to learn to take care of myself. Marriage is one issue I dare not think about," she said, with sadness in her eyes.

Ms Tang had two previous relationships before she left the village.

She isn't sure what she wants to do, or can do, when she gets home. She was discharged from the hospital on June 22.

Said Ms Tang: "I don't know what I can do. It doesn't really matter, so long as I earn a decent living."

The state will help her in a job hunt, she added.

"In a way, I think I am lucky. I didn't even think I would survive. There may be many women out there who were conned into prostitution but never had the chance to flee from it. I did."

Picture: Ms Tang Shengli in her wheelchair at the hospital

TRUSTING a stranger led Ms Tang Shengli into the desperate situation that changed her life forever.

Yet, that has not made her wary of strangers.

After her story was splashed across the front pages of the local papers, Ms Tang became a national hero. The prestigious Bo Ai Hospital in Beijing offered her free treatment.

And strangers came from everywhere to see her.

Singaporean businessman Jason Ong has paid her four visits since January.

Mr Ong said in an earlier interview with The New Paper that he was impressed with her courage. He even wanted to adopt her as his daughter.

Ms Tang said she knows nothing about the adoption. But they get along well.

"He dotes on me like a daughter."

Her relationship with her father isn't as smooth. "I enjoy a cordial relationship with my own father, but we tend to argue. With Uncle Ong, there is better understanding. I feel close to him, like a daughter to a father.''

Mr Ong, 44, is married, with a 17-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter.

"Someone once mistook him for my father and I said yes, he is my god-father," added Ms Tang.

But why isn't she wary of strangers?

"Call me naive if you want, but I don't suspect anyone who visits me. What can they get out of me anyway? I believe there are still many good people out there," she said.


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Feet of courage

BY KEN JALLEH JR

AS it is in every pub, coffee-shop and living room, the kids were masquerading as men.

They were seated at the next table, lost in passionate conversation, worshipping the feet of gods while shovelling food into their mouths.

They were in awe and envy, speaking of courage, of greatness, of godliness and immortality. The world is, after all, coming to a euphoric end in exactly a week, Armageddon signalled by the shrill of the referee's final whistle.

In the emotive language of sport, greatness is plentiful, and perspective inapplicable. If men were gods, they'd be togged in knickers and Nike.

These have been overdosed days of visual and verbal superlatives, of images so awesome and inspiring that I gleefully surrender all perspective.

Then I came to work.

In the office yesterday, I read the stories of Tang Shengli and Pong Seow Chin.

Ms Tang's story is what she calls a "miracle". Having flung herself off a two-storey brothel to escape the claws of a pimp, she became at once a hero in China, and a cripple in bed.

She would never walk again, said doctors. And yet...

Ms Pong has lost her legs. Yet, says to others less disabled: "You should come over here and see me and you'll realise how blessed you are."

Kick yourself if, in the envy of professional feet in France, you blind yourself to your own good fortune. Kick yourself - and be grateful that you can.

This page is hardly the proper turf to plant an image of a studded foot. But it serves its purpose if, in the most familiar visual of the day, you are drawn to the basics of the simple miracle of mobility.

The Nike slogans reflect today's hyped-up times.

If you couldn't kick a ball, what would you kick? If you couldn't dream of scoring a goal, what would you dream?

For Tang Shengli and Pong Seow Chin, such questions are as irrelevant as the manic passions of millions celebrating the mobility and feats of a few fortunate men.

Ms Tang and Ms Pong are players in their personal World Cup, in a struggle that lasts beyond regulation time.

For them, mobility means more than a goal. It is a miracle.


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Social etiquette lacking

REFER to the recent letters on green seats on buses and concur fully that our public transport system as not done anything to cater to the old or disabled.

No number of green seats is going to ensure that those who need them will be accorded one upon boarding a bus.

As it is now, the green seats are generally occupied by those of the younger generation who think nothing of leaving an elderly person to stand. What is even more shocking is that uniformed personnel sometimes occupy these seats, oblivious to the elderly and pregnant women standing nearby.

What our society lacks is social etiquette and civic consciousness.

If and when we have acquired the proper mindset and a state of maturity, we will no longer need to identify seats for the elderly.

RALTH SHENTON
LESSLAR


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This little girl is terrified of DOORS

Two months have passed since a bus crushed her legs. And the five-year-old girl still bears the scars on her frail body. But MELVIN SINGH finds out about the nightmares that have bothered her most

LITTLE Jolene Chia shakes with fear whenever she's near an automatic door. She is so scared that she even has to be carried into lifts.

It is easy to understand why.

On April 26, as she was getting off a bus, the doors began closing and the bus moved off. Jolene was thrown onto the road along Teban Gardens. Her legs were then crushed by the SBS bus.

"Now, when she sees a door, especially the ones on lifts and buses, she becomes very quiet. We have to carry her or she'll refuse to go in," said Jolene's father, Mr Gar Chia.

The once-cheerful girl is now prone to bouts of silence, her father added.

And it doesn't help that it happened at the bus stop just opposite their Teban Gardens flat. "When she first came home, she cried each time she saw the bus stop," said Mr Chia, a 31-year-old subcontractor.

He added: "I'm thankful that she's alive. But now, she is so scared of doors. She thinks all doors will close on her. Sometimes, when she's sleeping, she wakes up crying because she was dreaming about the accident."

Jolene now walks with a limp.

That is an improvement. Because she needed a wheelchair in the first few weeks after she came home from spending 18 days in the hospital. And it was only on Thursday that she regained the confidence to walk unaided.

SHE WANTS TO RUN

But what she really wants to do is run.

Because waiting for her nearby is her favourite playground. And sitting in a corner of the family flat is her shiny, new bicycle.

It was a birthday present from her parents, given just three weeks before the accident.

"We tell her to be patient, to wait until she recovers completely. But how to convince her? Her cousin and friends are running around in front of her and she cannot do the same," said her father.

Last week, she returned to her friends in kindergarten.

Said her father: "But it is still very difficult for us to go out. Only a few days ago, she took a bus. Her mother had to hold her very tight. She was very quiet until she got off."

Jolene is also afraid to be alone.

And almost every night since her return from the hospital, her parents have had to sleep with her.

Even her younger sister is aware of jie jie's (elder sister's) pain.

When she senses that Jolene is afraid, the two-year-old walks up to big sister and, in an affectionate tone, says: "Sayang, sayang" (it's all right, it's all right), stroking Jolene's legs.

And love is exactly what Jolene needs, her father said. Because he hopes the attention and affection will help her recover from the nightmare.

Driver sacked for being negligent

AN SBS spokesman said the driver of the service 78 bus in the accident has since been sacked as he was found to be negligent.

Jolene and her family were on the way home from a family outing when the accident happened.

The rear doors began closing on her, separating her from the family's maid.

All the frightened girl could do then was to hang on to the railings as the bus also moved off. But her weak, little arms could not hold on for long.

Mr Chia said his daughter was dragged for about 2 m before she finally let go.

Then, there was a sickening thud and the girl's legs were crushed, apparently by the bus. Jolene was warded for more than two weeks at the National University Hospital.


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Disabled tourists take in local sights

DREAM TOUR FOR TAIWANESE

THIS tour group took almost half an hour to board the bus each time, but no one complained.

The 40 handicapped Taiwanese tourists, who have never left Taiwan before, enjoyed themselves on a four-day tour of Singapore with 40 volunteers and family members.

Their trip was organised by Taipei Jayceettes and the Singapore Tourism Board.

The itinerary included visits to Sentosa, the zoo, Singapore Discovery Centre, Tang Dynasty City and the Jurong BirdPark.

"Coming from low-income families, they have very little opportunity to travel," said Taipei Jayceettes president Candy Cheng, 34, who was left physically handicapped after a bout of polio.

Mr Patrick Tan, 40, head tour guide with HTL Travel, a Singapore agency, said it made special arrangements with hotels and restaurants and arranged for two vans to carry the wheelchairs.

But the group had to give the panorail ride at the BirdPark a miss, as the lift up to the platform could only take one wheelchair at a time.

Still, Mr Lin Yu Chih, 27, had so much fun he could not decide which was his favourite, while Mr Chang Zhong Yi, 22, said: "I just want to thank everyone who made this tour possible."

They left for home yesterday.

Said Ms Cheng: "This tour has been a dream come true."


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Beep, please be a volunteer...

By BRAEMA MATHI

MESSAGES that appeal to the heart are what more than 200,000 SingTel message pager subscribers can expect to see until the end of the month. Starting from 11.40 am today, they will receive messages like these: Spare a thought, give your time, be a volunteer Everyone can volunteer. Be a volunteer.

The volunteer hotline number, 1800-338-8106, will be displayed with the message. The messages are part of SingTel's free InfoXtra service, which updates subscribers on the weather, stock market, traffic conditions and entertainment.

When asked if the messaging system could be extended to commercial advertising, SingTel Paging's corporate communications manager, Mr Chia Boon Chong, said the subscribers already get messages about cinema shows and they can use these to get discounts on tickets. "We will look into other types of advertising. If it benefits our customers, why not?"

SingTel's involvement with the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) is part of its community service projects.

NCSS hopes to recruit more people for the Volunteers Campaign 1998. The campaign's sub-theme this year, Everyone can Volunteer, will be launched today by Community Development Minister Abdullah Tarmugi when he visits the Swami Home for the aged sick in Sembawang.

NCSS hopes to recruit 2,000 volunteers this year.

Apart from the SingTel paging service, Comfort Transportation has painted 10 cabs with the volunteer message.

Temasek Polytechnic has designed a website for NCSS to provide details on the volunteer campaign. The address is http://www.volunteers.org.sg

Other NCSS programmes to recruit volunteers:


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World's tallest man dies of kidney failure

THE Pakistani recognised as the tallest man in the world, Mr Mohammad Alam Channa, has died in New York from kidney failure at the age of 45, the official news agency APP reported yesterday. Mr Channa, a towering 2.317 m, died on Thursday, said the agency.

He was recognised as the world's tallest man by the Guinness Book Of Records in 1982, and he still held the record in the book's latest edition, it added.

A Sindhi speaker from Pakistan's southern Sindh province, Mr Channa left behind a wife and an eight-year-old son.

He had been suffering from urinary-bladder tuberculosis and diabetes, which inflicted severe damage on his kidneys, and had gone to the United States in May for treatment at the expense of the Pakistani government.

However, he lapsed into a coma on arrival. AFP


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Public transport can't cater to all disabled

I REFER to several recent letters on access to the MRT by the disabled.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) and public transport operators view the special needs of commuters, including a growing number of senior citizens, seriously.

We have introduced various measures to make travel for them, including the ambulant disabled, easier and safer. For example, there are reserved seats on buses and MRT trains; ramps and handrails at newer MRT stations, and non-slip floor surfaces to demarcate the edge of platforms in elevated MRT stations. Each station on the North-East Line will be equipped with lifts for public use.

We realise that these measures will not help a smaller group of non-ambulant disabled, such as the wheelchair-bound, who require very special transport services and facilities. It is this group that experiences difficulties in using our public transport system.

However, there are very real and severe limitations to modifying and retrofitting the MRT network to make it fully accessible to the non-ambulant disabled.

First, our public transport system is designed to transport very large numbers of commuters quickly and efficiently. The system already caters to about four million passenger trips each day.

The unique needs of the non-ambulatory disabled cannot be met by the system.

On the other hand, making adjustments to the system to cater to the special needs of this group will affect the operation of our public transport system. This will result in a less efficient system for the vast majority of the travelling public.

For example, special wheelchair lifts take several minutes to move the disabled on and off the buses. In a heavily-used system like ours, where headways are of the order of minutes during peak hours, such disruptions can be very costly for other commuters.

Other cities are able to do this as their riderships and service frequencies are very much lower than ours. Similarly, if dedicated entrances and facilities are to be installed on every train to enable wheelchair-bound commuters to board, it will hold up the entire rail network, resulting in longer travel and waiting times for all commuters.

Another important consideration is the safety of commuters. In an emergency, commuters may have to be evacuated from the MRT system. They may have to walk along the MRT viaducts or tunnels or leave the station platforms using the stairs only. All these have to be done quickly and in an unassisted way.

In view of their special needs and the very real restrictions we have in retrofitting transport networks, we believe firmly that the needs of the non-ambulatory disabled are better served by dedicated transport services.

A more cost-effective and satisfactory arrangement for the non-ambulant disabled is door-to-door transport services. This is being examined by the Working Group on Transport for the Disabled, chaired by the Ministry of Community Development (MCD).

The LTA and the National Council of Social Service are also represented on the committee.

Nevertheless, we do realise that dedicated door-to-door services are more expensive than public transport. That is why the MCD and LTA are jointly administering two schemes to exempt Certificate of Entitlement and Additional Registration Fee for vehicles registered by disabled persons and the voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs).

The eligibility is based on criteria worked out with the MCD. Some VWOs also provide special transport services for their clients. These and other schemes and subsidies under the purview of the MCD are targeted to help meet the special needs of the disabled persons who are unable to travel by public transport.

We wish to assure the disabled and your readers that we welcome and seriously consider feedback and suggestions in this area, and will continue to find ways and means to help the disabled get around in Singapore.

TOH SU FEN (Miss)
Deputy Director
Corporate Communications
Land Transport Authority


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Professor not present at class

I REFER to the letter, "Show proof first" (ST, June 26) by Associate Professor Chew Sek Jin of the Singapore Eye Research Institute (Seri), and would like to offer a further dimension to his points.

Dr Janet Goodrich has been quoted often by the good doctor as repeatedly refusing internationally accepted methods of testing vision. We wish to put on record that she has had absolutely no meetings whatsoever with any members of Seri, and has never made such a stand.

We continue to be puzzled at Prof Chew's insistence on having "sat in on her seminar" in order to qualify his evaluation of her methods.

In addition to Dr Goodrich herself and the staff of Delta-T, we have 30 children and their parents who bear witness to the fact that only one person came into class unannounced one morning.

This person did not speak to Dr Goodrich and left after about five to 10 minutes. (This person was later identified as Professor Cheng Hong Ming of Seri).

Prof Chew, who was invited to sit in on our class, did not turn up at all. To lay claim to such an evaluation would surely be cursory and erroneous.

We feel his claim of having reviewed Dr Goodrich's books is tantamount to theoreticians carrying on a debate without having any firsthand experience of trying and testing her methodology.

His remark on its similarity to the methods propounded by Dr William Bates would not have been made if he had actually sat through her seminars, as there are significant differences between the two.

She began where Dr Bates left off, but over the years, has developed her own techniques, so she can rightly call the methodology her own.

Similarly, Mr Christopher Tan of the Association of Contact Lens Practitioners ("Child who didn't benefit", ST, June 26) is also in no position to make the remarks he did, comparing her methods to those of Dr Bates, when his knowledge of her methods is at best cursory.

We regret his client experienced an increase in myopia despite trying some form of eye relaxation treatment, when there are others who saw the reverse in the records of opticians throughout the island.

Delta-T will continue collecting data on Singaporeans through its own study programme, which in due course will be proof enough for the people and their children who have to live with their vision problems and who want to do something about it.
ALVIN KHOO
TEIK LIANG
Manager
Delta-T Network International


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Support natural remedy

I REFER to the letters on this page (ST, June 26) on the eyesight improvement method of Dr Janet Goodrich.

I attended a Janet Goodrich seminar in Kuala Lumpur. Her teaching style is lively and serves to inspire people to do something which doctors say is impossible, that is, improve their eyesight.

Her method has helped me improve my eyesight from -300 degrees to not needing to wear glasses now.

There is a tremendous need for her work in Asia, as present treatment, such as wearing glasses, drug-taking and surgery, has not really helped to reduce the problem of poor eyesight.

I believe in promoting natural and harmless solutions to increasing health problems and advise Singaporeans to support Dr Goodrich's approach to vision education for schools, families and individuals.

ESTHER DING


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"We've never had a gathering for everyone -- doctors, patients, donors and volunteers, till now because we didn't want to waste unnecessary costs. But since Hotel New Otani offered us the restaurant and today is exactly five years since the programme was formed, why not?"
-- Mr Gerald Loong, founder and president of the programme

Stranger who gave life

Jul 01, 1998

On Sunday, the Bone Marrow Donor Programme celebrated its fifth anniversary at Hotel New Otani - the first ever gathering for the donors, recipients, doctors and other volunteers who help keep the organisation running. TEO YUN YUN catches up with some of them at the party

Picture: Kai Chuan with his mum, dad and nine-year-old sister
At the party: Kai Chuan with his mum,
dad and nine-year-old sister. Pic/ ALVIN TOH

MR Toh Ah Yeow and his family came for the party in the hope of meeting for the first time with his son's benefactor.

The person, that is, who gave his seven-year-old Kai Chuan a new lease of life in a bone marrow transplant more than one year ago.

So when the family found out that the donor was not able to attend because he was abroad, they were very disappointed.

Said Mr Toh, 27, a cook, in Mandarin: "I want to thank him in person. He was a stranger to us and didn't have to help at all.

"When we found out Kai Chuan had leukemia when he was four, none of us was a match, so for two years we just waited to see whether the registry can help us locate one."

The match finally came one and a half years ago.

Said Mr Toh's wife, Madam Huang Xiao Ping, 25, a canteen assistant: "You cannot imagine how happy we were.

"Of course, we knew it doesn't mean he would be completely cured, but it was better than nothing."

Kai Chuan, who still visits the doctor regularly and takes about 10 pills a day, is one of 12 recipients who have benefitted from the Bone Marrow Donor Programme since it was set up five years ago.

And three of them, including Kai Chuan, and many of the donors, turned up for the party on Sunday.

Many were meeting for the first time.

SHOW OF SUPPORT

Together with doctors and volunteers, they all turned up to show support for the programme which has helped changed their lives.

Though a quiet, low-key affair, it marked a milestone for the programme.

In just five years, the independent organisation has raised $6.1 million and built a 21,000-strong registry of donors.

From that, 38 transplants have been carried out so far though only 12 recipients are still surviving.

Mr Gerald Loong, founder and president of the programme used the occasion to thank the programme's many corporate sponsors over the years, including Singapore Pools and Jurong Country Club. For others, it was just a good opportunity to meet and catch up with people in the programme.

Said Mr Toh: "Perhaps we can meet Kai Chuan's donor at the next gathering. Still, it was good to see the doctors and nurses again."

Finding a match

  • When you register yourself as a donor, a sample of 10 ml of blood will be taken from you.
  • To be a donor, six factors of your chromosones, or genes, will have to match the recipient's.
    At this stage, only four factors will be processed due to high costs ($500).
  • The results will be entered into the programme's registry.
  • If your sample is identified as a match for someone, you will receive a call from the registry.
  • You will need to have your blood sample taken again, this time to process the remaining two factors. All costs will be paid by the recipient.
  • If all factors match, you are a potential donor. Doctors will explain what you have to do and go through once you agree.
Donating stem cells

A: Donating marrow stem cells

Marrow stem cells -- This involves an operation which will extract marrow sample from your body via the back of your pelvic bone. Donors will need to undergo general anaesthestic.

B: Donating blood stem cells

Blood stem cells -- ''Stem cells'' needed by the recipient will be extracted from your blood sample.

Blood stem cells are extracted over a period of seven days. On the first four days, donors need to go for injections to introduce ''growth factors'' or a drug, into your blood.

These will attract and produce more stem cells for harvesting.

Over the next three days, the stem cells will be extracted from the donor's blood via a machine called a ''cell separator''.

Blood will be taken from one arm and returned via the other after the stem cells are removed.


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