Pilot, 35, struck down by brain tumour

SINGAPORE - Pregnant with her first child in 2006, she was at home when she got a call from her husband's air force squadron colleague.

"Kimmy, sit down. I have something to tell you," she recalled him saying.

He then said that her pilot husband, Captain Will Leong Yew Wah, had fainted while jogging at their base.

When Mrs Kimmy Leong, now 34, went to Changi General Hospital that day, she thought he was dehydrated and chided him for not drinking water.

But a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan conducted the next day revealed that he had a brain tumour.

He went for an operation and the tumour was successfully removed.

From that day on, till his death on Sunday from another tumour, Capt Leong made it a point to live life to the fullest with his family - especially daughters Natacia, six, Abby, three, and son Jordan, 15 months. He was 35.

Mrs Leong, a teacher, said all was well after the first tumour was removed - until another mass was discovered in June last year.

He stopped working and underwent another craniotomy. The mass was said to be scarring and not a tumour, but the pilot told his wife he felt something was amiss.

A few months later, an MRI scan revealed that the mass had doubled in size and was a tumour. Aggressive chemotherapy and radiotherapy was used this time round to treat it.

On Dec 28 last year, Capt Leong called his wife while she was at work to say the left side of his body felt heavy and paralysed.

Mrs Leong said he went for occupational therapy while doing chemotherapy, and was so weak that a brush from one of the kids would feel like a great push.

"His senses went haywire," she said.


Yet he persevered.

Inspired by a colleague who had started taking music lessons with his kid, Capt Leong enrolled Natacia in violin lessons and walked her into her first class while on crutches.

He took her to class for a few months even though his motor skills weren't good, recalled Mrs Leong.

"I scolded him for bad note-taking. I said it was so messy! Then I started taking her to class instead."

Even so, Capt Leong requested a violin for his birthday this year. He learnt to play and accompanied Natacia on it, she said.

"He tried every day. His left arm would start to droop after a few bars, but he would prop his elbow up."

Father and daughter managed to learn one song together - Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with variations.

Memories we shared

Wednesday evening, items he and his family shared were placed around the coffin - a basketball the family played with, a Nerf toy gun which he chased his children with and five drawings from Natacia, including a family portrait and a letter taking stock of the things she thought "Papa" would miss.

Capt Leong was dressed in his flight suit as Mrs Leong said she knew he missed flying. He had signed up with the Republic of Singapore Air Force as an Air Defence Specialist when he was about 18 and went on to become a pilot.

She recalled his aerial refuelling squadron's motto - 'Nobody kicks ass without a tanker's gas' - printed on a T-shirt, which she said she's keeping to remember him by.

A 48-year-old colleague, who declined to be named, said flying was Capt Leong's passion, and that he was a good friend, colleague and comrade.

Hard fact that he's gone

Facing the fact that he's gone

Yesterday, the air at the void deck of their Punggol flat, where the funeral was held, was punctuated with the roar of planes overhead from nearby Paya Lebar Air Base.

Her husband used to tell the children the type of plane just by the sound, Mrs Leong said.

Natacia said of her late father: "I love Papa because he's handsome and hardworking." According to her mother, she was hit hard by the fact that he was gone.

Mrs Leong said she did not speak of death with her husband save once, two weeks ago. But she had asked him what he wanted his children to be.

"For Natacia, it was a doctor. For Abby, to just be herself. For Jordan, it was to be an officer, to have leadership qualities.

"'But don't worry, I'll teach him,'" she recalled him saying.

She added she told him that if he had to go, he could go. But he had to promise that he would visit them in their dreams.

"'I leave niche areas (of instruction) to you,' I said. When I wake up and they suddenly are aware of things, I know he will have taught them."

His memorial service was held on Wednesday and he was cremated yesterday.

What are the signs of a brain tumour?

What are the signs of a brain tumour?

Symptoms of a brain tumour include chronic headaches, seizures and neurologic symptoms such as weakness in an arm or leg.

This depends on which portion of the brain is affected, said Dr Ang Peng Tiam, medical director of Parkway Cancer Centre.

It commonly strikes people between the ages of 20 and 50, he said.

Dr Ang added that fast-growing types like glioblastoma could kill within months of diagnosis.

Other types like meningioma can grow over many years.

Treatment can involve surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy, or a combination of these treatments, said DrHsieh Wen-Son, a consultant medical oncologist with Singapore Oncology Consultants at the Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre and Mount Alvernia Hospital.


Get The New Paper for more stories.

Purchase this article for republication.



Your daily good stuff - AsiaOne stories delivered straight to your inbox
By signing up, you agree to our Privacy policy and Terms and Conditions.