Girl, 15, excels in N-levels despite missing lessons due to liver disorder

Girl, 15, excels in N-levels despite missing lessons due to liver disorder
DETERMINED: Stella Lim did well despite missing almost half the school term.
PHOTO: The New Paper

Pasir Ris Secondary School student Stella Lim, 15, lives in the shadow of death.

She does not know when her liver - of which only a third is functioning - will fail her.

This year alone, she was hospitalised five times before her N levels and once right after her last paper.

Despite this, the Secondary 4 Normal (Technical) student scored two As and four Bs in her N levels.

Her mother Lim Chaun Song, 52, is exceptionally proud of her.

"I'm very happy that she got such results. She didn't get any Cs or Ds like in her prelims.

"I cannot ask for the impossible, especially when she has this condition and had to be absent from school a lot," said the housewife.

Stella was born with biliary atresia, a rare chronic condition where one does not have ducts to drain bile away from the liver.

Despite a procedure to join her liver to her intestines when she was just 40 days old, only a third of her liver is functioning today.

There is no telling if her condition will improve or worsen. Even a fever could be a sign of something sinister.

She usually has to be admitted for blood tests to ensure her liver is still functioning.

Said Mrs Lim: "When she is admitted, she needs to take a blood test. She doesn't like needles. That's why when the doctor mentions hospital admission, her tears just flow."

Stella was absent for close to half the school term. She said she spent half the time in hospital fretting about school work.

"I was stressed and worried. I asked friends for help and went through what the teacher had gone through while I was absent," she said.

Mrs Lim added that she would collect worksheets from the school for her.


"My heart ached, but if she had let the homework accumulate, she would have had a lot to finish when she went back to school," said Mrs Lim.

Flipping through Stella's report book, the mother of three showed The New Paper her daughter's prelim exams report card. Stella scored an A for English and B for basic Chinese.

"Not bad, right, eh? She could get such results even though she's often absent from school," said Mrs Lim.

Stella, who is a recipient of the Edusave Scholarship, which is awarded yearly to the top 10 per cent of students of their cohort, has bigger dreams.

"I think I can do better than that," she said, adding that she hopes to become a nurse, an ambition influenced by her frequent contact with medical professionals due to her condition.

Despite Stella's acceptance of her liver condition, she is still plagued by fears of her condition worsening. This is exacerbated by news of liver patients dying after transplants, some of which surfaced this year.

Mrs Lim said: "She took a screenshot of an article about a liver patient who died and sent it to me. She asked me if she would have the same fate."

The housewife tried to assuage Stella's fears, but she knew she needed convincing herself.

"It's really scary to read all these reports. I don't know. Just live day by day," she said, heaving a huge sigh.

"If I knew Stella had biliary atresia, I would have considered (terminating the pregnancy. Then neither she nor I would have to suffer."

Her son, 20, has a severe back problem. Her other daughter, 18, had a bent spine and had to wear a brace to straighten it. Her husband, who now works odd jobs, has kidney failure.

The family lives together in a four-room flat in Tampines, which Mrs Lim keeps spotlessly clean.

"Actually, I'm not very strong myself," she said.

"I can tell you, every time there's a problem, I'd cry. Sometimes I ask myself, 'Why is God so unfair to me?'

"But I have no choice but to face it. Sometimes, we just have to look on the brighter side."

This article was first published on December 18, 2015.
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