Diagnosed with leukaemia at 3, he grows up to be volunteer

SINGAPORE - While children his age were fighting over toys, Sheam Kannan was in hospital battling early-stage leukaemia. He was just three then. Mr Kannan, now 20, has never forgotten his struggles. He wanted to become a doctor but could not do so after being retained in junior college.

Then he decided to join Singapore Polytechnic's Electrical and Electronic Engineering course in 2010, focusing on biomedical engineering.

"Since I can't help others as a doctor, I want to build medical equipment for their treatment," said the volunteer with various cancer charities.

Mr Kannan has also been volunteering with various cancer charities.

For his final-year-project, Mr Kannan and two other students created a wireless area network for physiotherapy, which allows patients to do their physiotherapy at home while doctors monitor them from hospital.

Volunteer

Mr Kannan actively helps out at events organised by the Children's Cancer Foundation and shaved his head for Hair for Hope to help raise awareness and money for cancer patients.

Out of all the volunteer work he has done, one incident stood out.

He was planning a party for a terminally ill patient under the Make-a-Wish Foundation. However, she died the week before the scheduled party.

He said: "Although I never met her, I felt a connection to her through organising the party."

Mr Kannan was still living in India when he was diagnosed with early-stage leukaemia. He often vomited blood and was weak.

He then underwent chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which was successful and he went into remission.

When he was 16 - 11 years after that - he was declared cancer-free.

His extended family and friends helped pay for his hospital bills, lightening the burden on his civil engineer father, Mr Thumbi Chandriah Murali.

The 50-year-old said: "I am proud of my son for having enough courage and strength to overcome the challenges throughout his cancer journey."

Mr Kannan moved to Singapore with his family when he was five, after his father found a job here. His family became Singapore citizens in 2009.

As a primary school pupil, he was often ill and even a simple fever would cause a mad rush to hospital to ensure that it was not a relapse.

Physical education lessons were discouraging. He said: "My friends could all run faster than me and were fitter than me, and I wished I could do the same."

He then set out to prove that he could be as fit as anyone else, and by the time he was in secondary school, Mr Kannan represented his school in table tennis.

In junior college, he joined the outdoor adventure club.

His School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering lecturer Voon Ching Choo was inspired by Mr Kannan's story and nominated him for the valedictorian award.

She said: "He is mature, humble, willing to give and grabs any opportunity to learn.

"For instance, he did his internship in a hospital in China despite not knowing much Mandarin."

Mr Kannan will be studying electrical engineering at the National University of Singapore after his national service. He will be enlisted on July 16 at the Human Resource Institute.

But he has not given up his hope of being a doctor. He said: "Perhaps I can take up medicine as a post-graduate degree."

ajtheng@sph.com.sg

"My friends could all run faster than me and were fitter than me, and I wished I could do the same."- Mr Sheam Kannan


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