Teen gets new lease of life with donated liver
Procedure was S'pore's first non-directed liver donor
After waiting for four years, Lim Si Jia, 16, received a new lease of life in March.
And she got it from a liver donor, who for the first time in Singapore history, had offered to give part of his organ to the most needy patient on the national waiting list, instead of a particular individual.
It happened to be her.
When she was eight, Si Jia was diagnosed with glycogen storage disease, a rare genetic condition which renders the body unable to break down glycogen - its store of sugar - due to the deficiency of critical liver enzymes.
Accumulated glycogen causes liver swelling. Cancerous tumours can also develop over time.
Since she was eight, Si Jia had to swallow cornstarch mixed with water every night to maintain a constant blood sugar level while sleeping.
She was also unable to take part in rigorous sports, as her blood sugar could fall to dangerously low levels.
When she was 12, she was put on the waiting list.
Her elder brother, who is 18, also suffers from the same disease and went through a liver transplant last year. He received a new liver from a donor who was brain dead.
When Si Jia was young, her mother, Ms Katherine Chong, 52, had noticed that Si Jia's stomach was protruding, a symptom that her son had experienced as well.
NEVER GIVE UP
Ms Chong, who works in an insurance company, told The New Paper: "Every parent is hurt by watching their child suffer, but it's something we accept. The crucial point is to never give up."
Ms Chong has another daughter, aged 21, who does not have the condition.
Unlike her brother, Si Jia has the chance to thank her donor.
Before they met, her donor, Mr Lim Kok Seng, 54, did not know anything about Si Jia. Despite this, he stepped forward and eventually gave 60 per cent of his liver to her.
Mr Lim is Singapore's first non-directed liver donor.
This means that he did not have a specific individual in mind when he donated his liver.
Prof Krishnakumar Madhavan, co-director of the National University Centre for Organ Transplantation (Nucot) at the National University Hospital (NUH), said: "Previously, people have donated to non-relatives. But this is the first time someone has said, 'I want to donate. It doesn't matter who it is.'
"If you are fit and well, and there's no one in front of your eyes suffering, then usually the thought doesn't occur."
Mr Lim applied to be a donor in January last year. He was assessed by the Ministry of Health's National Organ Transplant Unit, before being referred to Nucot for further evaluation.
He was found to be a suitable donor for Si Jia.
The operation, which took place in March this year, happened just one year shy of Mr Lim turning 55, which is the recommended cut-off age to be a living liver donor.
Mr Lim was hospitalised for five days after the operation.
His liver has already regenerated to two-thirds its original size, and is expected to recover completely by next month.
Last month, Mr Lim and Si Jia met for the first time.
To show her appreciation, Si Jia presented him with a box of folded paper cranes and a handmade card containing messages from her entire family.
She is taking a break from school to recover from the operation, but will be able to resume her studies by September.
Meanwhile, she is honing her guitar and drawing skills. She also plans to take up Korean dance lessons once she recovers.
Si Jia, who is from Edgefield Secondary School, said: "I'm very grateful to Uncle Lim, and I really admire his courage and determination.
"Before the surgery, I couldn't really take part in physical activities. Now, I hope to exercise and grow taller."
Donor: 'I wanted to share my blessings'
Security concierge Lim Kok Seng's decision to donate his liver was anything but impulsive.
Twenty years ago, he pledged to donate his organs after his death.
"I've lived for half a century and maintained my liver in a good condition," said Mr Lim, 54.
"Now, I'm already past my prime. I'd feel rather sad if my liver can't be donated due to damage in old age."
Asked whether his family supports him, he said: "Initially, my younger daughter questioned, 'Why, Papa?'
"She was afraid that something could go wrong during the surgery. I told her, 'Don't ask why too much. Just know that Daddy is doing this for a good cause.'"
Mr Lim is married, with two daughters aged 12 and 26.
His younger daughter, Angel, is part of the reason why he wanted to donate his liver.
"My wife was already in her early 40s when she gave birth to Angel.
"We were blessed by how our second daughter was born normal and healthy," he said.
"I wanted to share my blessings."
The mother of the girl he donated 60 percent of his liver to, Ms Katherine Chong, 52, hopes that more potential donors will be spurred by Mr Lim to take initiative.
"Very few people would do this kind of thing. I hope that people will be encouraged to step forward, and that recipients on the waiting list will find hope," said Ms Chong tearfully.
BY THE NUMBERS
Living donor liver transplants*
*Singapore citizens/PRs in all hospitals
Deceased donor liver transplants
Source: Ministry of Health Live On website