Cancer patient's final bucket list: Donate his corneas

SOLEMN: (From left) Jordan Lim's parents, Mr Lim Meng Kwang and Madam Seah Hui Kheng, and his sister Charis.
PHOTO: Cancer patient's final bucket list: Donate his corneas

SINGAPORE - When he drew up a bucket list in his final weeks, Jordan Lim, 18, included something that surprised his parents: donating his corneas.

"We just wanted to help him fulfil his wishes," said his father, Mr Lim Meng Kwang, 54.

Last month, the student succumbed to osteosarcoma - a cancerous bone tumour - in the left leg.

His corneas were harvested on the same day he died and have been used to help two patients with corneal blindness.

Jordan, the youngest of four children, was diagnosed with cancer in 2009. He was then 12 and he did not know how to handle his diagnosis.

Said Mr Lim, a pastor: "He took it really badly. We both broke down. It took a month before he came to terms with the diagnosis."

After a year of chemotherapy, Jordan's cancer went into remission. His family thought he had won the battle against cancer for good.

He continued with his life, volunteering, going to school and doing his favourite things like taking photos and baking.

But last Christmas, their nightmare returned. Jordan had a relapse. The cancer was back and was more aggressive than before.

Said his mother, Madam Seah Hui Kheng, 52: "He was totally fine and showed no symptoms at all. But during a routine check, we realised the cancer was back and it flared up so fast.

"He was diagnosed on Monday and had to go for an operation on Friday (to remove the tumour)."

In February this year, around Chinese New Year, the Lims were told that Jordan had limited time to live.

"(The doctors) tried chemotherapy on my son, but realised the drugs weren't shrinking his tumour," said Mr Lim.

This time, it was Jordan who comforted his parents and helped them come to terms with the doctor's prognosis.

Sobbing, Madam Seah, a kindergarten teacher, said: "I think he was more ready than us. He actually brought up the issue that he has to go and told me I have to let him go.

"At that point of time, I said I couldn't."

Gradually, through their talks about death, Mr Lim and his wife found out more about their son's last wishes.

"It's difficult to talk about such things. But it's better to find out what are the things he wants to do when he's still alive than to wait until he's too weak," said Mr Lim.

FAMILY HOLIDAY

On his bucket list was spending more time with the family. That was fulfilled off with a family holiday to Japan.

In September, a month before he died, Jordan broached the topic of organ donation.

"We never talked about it, so we were quite surprised," said Mr Lim.

Madam Seah said: "I kind of dissuaded him because I was thinking the disease had spread all over his body.

"I told him, 'I don't think anyone would want your organs because they are of no use.' He was quiet for a while after that."

But to try to fulfil his wishes, the couple sought the doctor's opinion and learnt that Jordan could still donate his corneas as they were not affected by the cancer.

Although his condition left him weak and often in pain, Jordan still made the time and effort to get little gifts and penned personal notes for his friends.

He left no notes for his family, but showered them with "I love you's" daily.

Jordan's giving nature was what his older sister Charis, 20, chided him for occasionally.

"He's very generous, sometimes too generous. I always scold him for that," she said.

The university student said that while she joked with Jordan about death, she has never really accepted the fact that he would leave. "We always joked that we are going to leave (his ashes) in a tree. He would laugh and protest," she said.

Shaking her head and tearing, she added: "It's hard."

About corneal transplants

WHO WILL CORNEAS HELP?

Corneal transplants are for people who suffer from corneal blindness. This happens when the cornea becomes cloudy and light cannot penetrate the eye to reach the light-sensitive retina.

Every year, around 400 people undergo corneal transplants, said Professor Donald Tan, the director of the Singapore National Eye Centre.

WHERE ARE THE CORNEAS FROM?

A quarter of the corneas come from local donors. Another half come from an eye bank in Sri Lanka, which was set up in 2011. The rest are from the US and the Philippines.

At any one point, there are about 30 people on the waiting list for corneal transplants, said Prof Tan.

HOW ARE CORNEAS STORED?

They have to be stored at 4 deg C in a special solution called Optisol-GS.

Ideally, they should be used after being stored for a week but corneas can be kept for up to two weeks.

HOW TO DONATE

An interested donor can inform his loved ones about his intention. The corneal donation arrangements can be done by the family after the potential donor has died.

Anyone can opt for corneal donation as long as he is free from infectious disease. This includes those who have gone through Lasik. Locally, there is a 60 per cent consent rate when it comes to corneal donation.

fjieying@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Nov 22, 2014.
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