Singapore

Comfortable in her skin

Miss Ng Poh Peng's rare skin condition meant that doctors didn't expect her to survive. She defied the grave prognosis to live a full life. TNP charted her progress over the years

Readers have watched her grow from an eight-month-old baby to the 25-year-old woman she is now.

Miss Ng Poh Peng, whom The New Paper affectionately called Baby Poh Peng when we first broke her story, was born with congenital ichthyosis, a rare and incurable hereditary skin disorder that causes her skin to flake off like fish scales, exposing raw-looking wrinkled pink skin underneath.

She shares a special relationship with this newspaper, which has covered her story since 1991.

Miss Ng's story moved readers to donate more than $295,000 in 1991 to help her family pay for her medical care.

As TNP charted her progress in reports over the years, her steadfast resilience, courage and optimism amid adversity never waned.

She told TNP in an interview in June this year. "I tell myself that they're looking at me because I am special."

Miss Ng, who works from home as an online content administrator for an environmental volunteer group, said she used to be hurt by the stares and comments when she went out, but has learnt not to think too much about it.

NOT BOTHERED

"I'm not really bothered by how they look at me. But I do hope people treat those with disabilities a little better.

"We can't control how these people feel or how they look at us. But I hope Singaporeans can react in a kinder way and not be rude or impolite or say hurtful words."

Miss Ng added: "I don't mind people asking (about my skin), because I'll explain it to them. It would be good if more people understand (such conditions)."

She may have won the war against her initial diagnosis - doctors didn't expect her to survive beyond two weeks after birth - but she still faces daily battles.

Her ailment has left her bald and she has no eyelashes.

Miss Ng's skin condition means she has to apply moisturiser every few hours. She uses about two bottles every day and tries to stay indoors or in air-conditioned areas.

Despite her setbacks, Miss Ng, who studied at Opera Estate Primary School and Ping Yi Secondary School, obtained a Higher National ITE Certificate in Accounting from the Institute of Technical Education College East in March 2011.

She was offered a job by Dr Low Chai Ling, the founder of aesthetic chain The Sloane Clinic, after the latter read her story in TNP.

According to Dr Low, her employee is a "cheerful and optimistic girl with a never-say-die attitude which will bode her well through life".

NORMAL LIFE

She told TNP in March 2013: "Her determination to lead a normal and useful life is admirable as she has overcome much odds....

"Her condition limits her ability to seek other jobs and as she tires easily, the scope of her responsibilities has remained relatively constant over time.

"We have decided to allow her to progress at her own pace as we feel this will ensure she is comfortable with her work."

Due to the physical limitations, Miss Ng has become a homebody who enjoys the simple life, whether it's watching television, going online or reading.

She keeps in touch with her best friend Tabitha, whom she has known since primary school, online and over the phone.

They meet up only during special occasions such as birthdays, Chinese New Year and other holidays.

On occasion, she goes to nearby shopping malls or coffee shops to eat with her family, but it must always be on a cloudy or rainy day as being in the sun aggravates her condition.

She has also travelled to Malaysia and Indonesia.

Miss Ng's mother, Madam Cheng Fong Mui, 50, a hawker's assistant, said her daughter's positive attitude is something that has been built up over the years.

She said: "She used to avoid going out. But now, she isn't bothered by people looking. She's become stronger and more courageous."

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