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Inspiring resilience and strength through health challenges

A visually impaired couple clinches this year’s Singapore Health Inspirational Patient & Caregiver Awards — we salute them!

Right: Mdm Lim Yew Gek is a winner of the Singapore Health Inspirational Patient & Caregiver Awards 2022 (Patient Category). Left: Mr Tan Wee Liam is a winner of the Singapore Health Inspirational Patient & Caregiver Awards 2022 (Caregiver Category)

The extraordinary stories of patients and caregivers often motivate doctors, nurses and allied health professionals and other care team members to provide better healthcare services. To recognise the courage and strength of such individuals, the annual Singapore Health Inspirational Patient and Caregiver Awards (IPCA) were instituted in 2010.

Out of the 37 people felicitated in 2022, two are a married and visually impaired patient-caregiver duo. They are an exemplary model for perseverance and partnership in life.


Conquering life’s challenges

Mdm Lim Yew Gek realised she was losing her vision when reading the blackboards became difficult in primary school. The cause of this deterioration remained unknown and accelerated within a few months, due to which she was enrolled into the School for the Blind. Here, she completed her primary education and learnt basic life skills to lead an independent life despite a visual disability.

Yew Gek mastered getting by on her own and transitioned to a mainstream secondary school. However, a sharp pain in her right eye during this time revealed the root cause of her eye condition — glaucoma. She sat for her ‘O’ Level examinations in the hospital, around the time her right eyeball was replaced with a prosthetic one. Undeterred, Yew Gek began working right after her ‘O’ Levels.

“We should not let fear get in the way of living our lives. No matter what we can and cannot do, we should learn to put aside negative thoughts and live positively. This is how I overcome difficulties — one step at a time, one day at a time,” Yew Gek said.

Over the years, Yew Gek became completely blind. However, she has continued working over the past four decades. She also leads a content married life with her husband, who is not just her caregiver but also visually impaired.

Marriage was not easy for the pair. They had to adapt to living together in a new home and had trepidations about raising a child as visually challenged parents. But their son, now 27, is healthy and compassionate. The couple continues living together with mutual love, care and a fondness for hiking.

“Yew Gek’s story shows us that visual disability does not mean disability for life,” said Aw Ai Tee, Deputy Director of Nursing (Clinics and Research) at SNEC. “All it takes is a positive attitude and constant striving to do our best in whatever we choose to do, that will make the greatest difference in our lives.”


Partnering for life

Mr Tan Wee Liam was born eight weeks premature with Retinopathy of Prematurity, an eye disease caused by abnormal blood vessel growth in the retina. As a result, his right eye is blind, while the limited vision in his left eye has deteriorated further naturally with age.

Nonetheless, Wee Liam gets around familiar surroundings independently. He also transcribes and reproduces books in braille at the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped and teaches braille to adult visually handicapped clients.

At home, Wee Liam is the caregiver to his wife, Mdm Lim Yew Gek. But both are equal partners in their marriage. Yew Gek handles all the cooking while working as a receptionist, and Wee Liam takes care of everything else. They have also raised a good son together and make time to savour the little things in life such as music and audiobooks.

“Mr Tan is a capable caregiver,” Aw Ai Tee remarked, “He helps his wife who needs a new ocular prosthesis with her medical appointments as he wants her to get the best care possible. His courage and positive attitude inspire us to do more for our patients.”

Wee Liam said, “In life, there will always be ups and downs. I prefer not to focus on the negative. I know that I can turn to my friends and extended family for help and support when I need it, and am not afraid to ask for help when in public.”

Wee Liam shares his experience with other visually impaired individuals, empowering them to live independently, too. And after retirement, he is looking forward to volunteer work — more time to touch lives in the community.

This article is adapted from the Singapore Health Inspirational Patient & Caregiver Awards 2022 commemorative book.

Click here to check out other articles in SINGVISION Issue 1/2022.