She has a weak heart, but great tenacity

SINGAPORE - Ms Yuen Wan Jin never went through a single physical fitness test in school and mostly stayed on the sidelines when her classmates had physical education lessons.

She was exempted from vigorous activities because of her congenital heart condition. The programme management office specialist, who assists managers with operations such as procurement and billing of services, had holes in her heart and incorrectly positioned blood vessels

But Ms Yuen was not about to let life pass her by.

Starting with the National Runway Cycling and Skating event in 2008, the 25-year-old has tackled 19 endurance races so far, completing five this year.

She will be taking part in the 21km category of the Great Eastern Women's Run, Asia's biggest women-only road race, on Sunday.

She is never reckless about taking risks. Knowing how precarious her condition is, MsYuen never waits until she is breathless to slow down her pace.

During races, she alternates between jogging for a minute and then walking the next so she has time to recover.

If she feels the slightest bit dizzy or unwell before a race, she will forgo it.

What do you do to keep fit?

I do a variety of exercises. I jog or walk 2.4km along the park connector near my home, climb stairs from the ground floor to the 12th floor of my block, do sit-ups and lift weights at home. I do some form of exercise up to five times a week.

After attending yoga classes with a girlfriend for six months this year, I've been using the techniques to stretch at home.

What medical conditions did you have to grapple with?

When I was a few weeks old, I was diagnosed with atrial and ventricular septal defects, which meant there were holes in the wall separating both the lower and upper chambers of my heart.

The positions of the major blood vessels in my heart were also swopped, such that oxygen-poor blood was flowing around my body instead of to the lungs to get oxygen.

What saved me were the holes, which allowed about 30 per cent of blood to leak between the chambers.

My worried parents flew me to Perth for immediate surgery as they felt medical treatment in Singapore was not as good back then. The doctor said I would not live past one month if nothing was done.

I went back for a second operation when I was one. My major blood vessels are now in the correct position and apparently, one of the holes has closed on its own.

However, leakage from the other hole still causes my heart to be less efficient and I still have heart murmurs.

That is a sound made by the flow of blood through the hole every time the heart beats.

Has there been a time when you were not fit?

I wasn't fit for the most part of my life. The first time I successfully did a sit-up was when I was in Primary 6.

Fortunately, my health and fitness has been improving since. In the last six months of last year, my weight shot up by 8kg to reach 54kg. I had never weighed more than 50kg.

The wake-up call came when I could not fit into my work skirts. I was also very upset when people said I had put on weight.

I started counting my calories and realised I was consuming 1,000 kilocalories (kcal) more than I should be taking in a day, which was about 1,550kcal.

It prompted me to exercise more regularly and I lost 5kg and am hoping to drop a few more kilos or at least reduce my body fat percentage.

What is your diet like?

I eat whatever I want, but in controlled portions. I do count my calorie intake each day.

I have a carbohydrate-based breakfast, such as a bun, sandwich, cookies or granola bar. For lunch and dinner, I try to have a balanced meal with rice, meat and vegetables.

I've switched to healthier snacks such as nuts, cereal, granola bars, yogurt, fruit, raw vegetables and dark chocolate.

I avoid carbonated or sweetened drinks. I drink coffee or tea without sugar and milk. I always carry a water bottle with me.

What are your indulgences?

Once or twice a month, I have potato chips, ice cream and bubble tea. About once a week, I have fast food.

I don't believe in depriving myself of the food I love, but I control the amount I have each time or reduce the frequency of eating them.

What do you do to relax and achieve a healthy work-life balance?

To relax, I read books, go for jogs or play the computer game DiabloIII. I also enjoy meeting friends for movies and shopping.

What are the three most important things in your life?

My family, friends and my health.

Without my family, I would not be where I am today. My friends keep me going when I'm down, point me in the right direction and tell me what's best for me, not what's nice for me.

Health is something many people take for granted, but it means so much to me. I want to look after myself so that I can live life to the fullest and get to try and experience as many things as possible.

What is your secret to looking fabulous?

I believe anyone can look good if he or she puts in a little effort. It's also about being aware of your body, knowing what methods of staying fit work for you.

Would you go for plastic surgery?

I am all for reconstructive plastic surgery, for repairing injured or damaged body parts or correcting congenital deformities such as a cleft lip.

But in situations such as weight loss, I feel that liposuction should only be attempted when one has exhausted other options.

Do you think you're sexy?

When I think about myself, sexy doesn't really come to mind. As long as I feel good, am healthy and confident about myself, these are what matter most.

joanchew@sph.com.sg

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