Singapore

Little big fighters

When The New Paper chronicled the struggles of these kids, our readers stepped up to help the families. The two stories had totally different endings, but the fighting spirit of these the children did not go unnoticed

Among the hundreds of children and their heartwrenching tales we have featured in the last 28 years, these two stood out.

They are the storries of Bryan Liu and Charmaine Lim - remarkable kids with an unparalleled zest for life. They fought their insurmountable odds with a smile and a cheerful spirit.

Bryan didn't have kidneys.

Charmaine had advanced neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer which strikes the adrenal glands in infants and children.

The New Paper exclusively chronicled their struggles.

Our reports helped Bryan get a new kidney through an altruistic donor - somebody who is not related to the recipient via family links.

CHEERFUL SPIRIT: Bryan Liu and Charmaine Lim: Two tales which struck an emotional chord with our readers and inspired them to help in any way they could.

Our reports helped raise $500,000 for Charmaine in just three weeks to seek a potentially life-saving procedure in New York.

But she eventually succumbed to her terminal illness in October 2011 at the age of six.

Two different endings, but with the same beginning - in The New Paper.

We first highlighted Bryan's condition in June 2010. He was born with one kidney, which was small and had abnormal tissues. When he was two, it failed.

His mother, Madam Serene Ng, 39, donated one of her kidneys, but that, too, failed because a rare viral condition and had to be removed in 2009.

After our article was published, 25 readers wanted to donate their kidneys, but, unfortunately, there was no match.

That was when Mr Lin Dilun, 28, stepped up.

The TNP report inspired him, a total stranger, to donate one of his kidneys to Bryan.

In July 2012, one of his kidneys was removed in a four-hour operation at the National University Hospital. Thus Bryan became the youngest recipient of a kidney donated by an altruistic living donor in Singapore.

Said Madam Ng: "Without TNP, I don't think we would have got a donor for him. He will still be doing dialysis and I don't know whether he'll be here today."

FIGHT TO THE END

Charmaine was not that lucky. But she fought till the very end, succumbing to what her mother called "the monster".

Her battle lasted 2 1/2 years. During that time, she underwent 17 cycles of chemotherapy, took 11 types of chemotherapy drugs and spent many days in hospitals.

The mother, Ms Cynthia Lim, a 33-year-old financial planner and single mum who also has a son, was glad she shared the story of her daughter with The New Paper and the rest of Singapore when she was up against unbeatable odds.

When Charmaine was diagnosed in February 2009, Ms Lim quit her job to care for her.

She maintained a blog - Feisty Princess Charmaine - that documented the girl's battle.

That's when The New Paper picked it up and featured the little girl's struggle in June 2009.

At that time, Ms Lim was desperate to raise money for an alternative treatment which was available only at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre.

Treatment there would double her chances of survival, but it came at a very steep price - about $500,000. TNP's readers once again came forward to help.

Star footballers like Fandi Ahmad and Rafi Ali chipped in for a charity match, local musicians performed at a fund-raising concert in Charmaine's name. Popular online forums and Facebook groups chipped in, too.

Singaporeans donated generously and the target was met in three weeks.

Unfortunately, the little girl began losing the battle - she developed resistance to the key drug. The cancer spread rapidly.

With life ebbing away, she could hardly talk, she had trouble breathing.

Two years after her death, Ms Lim admitted to TNP in an interview that it's still "difficult" to answer questions on how she is coping.

She said: "There will be days and moments it comes back and hits you, you never know when, you just have to ride out."

But, on another level, Charmaine's life, and death, opened up a new world for the mother - strangers have become friends.

She added: "I would not have experienced the compassion and kindness in humanity without Charmaine and what happened to her. I feel very privileged and honoured."