Helping Ah Ma see again

SINGAPORE - Just a few years ago, her eyesight was so bad that she could make out only shadow and light.

Madam Lim Gay Hua, 65, found it tough to run her newspaper kiosk. Speaking in Mandarin, she says: "It was hard to make out outlines. When people paid me, I had to guess by the colour of the notes what denominations they were."

And, yes, there were people who tried to cheat her by walking off without paying.

"Some paid me in Malaysian coins," says Madam Lim.

But she could not just up and leave. The kiosk, which she runs at Block 339, Ang Mo Kio Street 31, was and is the only source of income to support her and her grandson.

When The New Paper documented her plight more than two years ago, her grandson, Chen Cher Yong, just seven years old then, had been roped in to help her. Acting as eyes for his Ah Ma, he would help hand out change to customers.

He never complained. Instead, he played with his toys and napped on a mattress tucked in a corner until it was time to return home at about 11.30pm.

He told TNP then: "Ah Ma can't see. I don't know if anyone's trying to steal from us. So Ah Boy has to look out to make sure nobody takes our money."

When asked about her grandson's involvement in the kiosk, Madam Lim says: "It was us two against the world, you know?"

Her story tugged at Singaporeans' heartstrings when it was published two years ago.

People wanted to help. Among them was Dr Leo Seo Wei, 41.

The ophthalmologist in private practice said: "I felt that I could help her. I had to do something."

But when she went to the kiosk, Madam Lim was not around.

Refusing to give up, Dr Leo got in touch with the grassroots leaders in Ang Mo Kio and eventually found out where Madam Lim lived.

She was not home but Dr Leo made the grassroots leaders promise to take Madam Lim to her clinic for a consultation "at least".

A month later, they turned up with Madam Lim and Cher Yong.

The blindness was, in fact, a case of cataracts. It was a severe case but was treatable.

But Madam Lim had to be convinced to go for the operation to remove the cataracts.

"I waived my fees, so did the anaesthetist. I even convinced Mount Elizabeth Hospital to let me use the operating theatre free of charge. Everything was booked and everyone was ready to go," says Dr Leo.

That was in January last year.

"But Madam Lim was a no-show," Dr Leo says.

Madam Lim was afraid that she would not get back from the operating table.

"Who would look after my grandson?" she recalls.

She was also extremely worried about finances and did not want to burden anyone, especially for money for follow-up care and consultation.

But another good soul turned up.

Ms Christine Goh, a social worker with the Care Corner Family Service Centre (Toa Payoh), cajoled and nagged Madam Lim for a full year before the latter finally relented.

The hospital agreed, once again, to waive its fees for the operating theatre and ward.

On Feb 17 this year, Dr Leo operated on Madam Lim's left eye and, a week later, her right.

But the work did not end there.

"She had to administer eye drops regularly post-operation to ensure there was no infection. I was worried she might forget," says Dr Leo.

So the doctor and social worker hatched a plan to involve Madam Lim's grandson, tenant, neighbours and shopkeepers near her home to remind her to apply the medication.

And they readily agreed. Each day, they reminded Madam Lim about the drops. Some even helped her apply the medicine.

Dr Leo says with a satisfied smile: "You know the proverb 'It takes a whole village to raise a child'? In this case, a village got together to make sure Madam Lim had her sight back."

Smiling broadly, Madam Lim admits that she used the eye drops conscientiously because of the care and concern that her neighbours showed her.

"I'm so grateful, they all cared," she says.

She is also grateful that her grandson can spend more time in enrichment classes because of her improved vision. Cher Yong now goes to after-school care till 6pm on weekdays.

But he still opts to keep her company on most weeknights, and does his schoolwork while she runs the store.

The shopkeepers near Madam Lim's kiosk all sing praises of Cher Yong, noting how filial and protective he is of his grandmother.

When approached for this interview, the 10-year-old was shy and did not say much.

But he does tell Ms Goh: "Ah Ma took care of me. I must take care of her."

This article by The New Paper was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.

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