'I knew it was possible to have a future'

When he was told by doctors just before National Day that his hands and feet had to be amputated, Mr Tan Whee Boon's world all but collapsed around him.

Speaking to The New Paper last week, the 50-year-old technician said he had "no more future", as he could not imagine a life without his limbs.

With his hands and feet blackened after his battle against bacterial infections, Mr Tan also had little hope for the future of his wife and two children, aged 14 and 15. But thanks to a visit from national para-athlete Aishah Samad on Saturday, Mr Tan has regained hope.

Ms Aishah, who lost her hands and feet in 2012 after suffering from a bacterial infection, had gone to visit Mr Tan after reading the TNP report about his condition and mental anguish.

When Mr Tan saw Ms Aisha enter his ward in her wheelchair, he was moved to tears.

He said: "When I saw her smiling and talking to me, I knew it was possible to have a future.

"To actually meet someone who has gone through what I'm going through - it's comforting to know there is hope."

Ms Aishah's limbs had to be amputated in 2012 after she suffered an infection while on a trip to China.

After that, the single mother of two struggled to get her life back together.

Actions that used to be simple for her, such as brushing her teeth and drinking from a cup, became daily struggles.

In an earlier interview with TNP, Ms Aishah, who won the South-east Asian Games shooting bronze medal in 2003, admitted that she had contemplated suicide at the time.

Said the 43-year-old: "I thought of jumping off a building, but I couldn't even get off the bed on my own then.

"I thought of drinking poison, but I couldn't even lift a cup. So I contemplated suffocating myself with a pillow, but realised it wouldn't be fair to my family and friends who stood by me."


Ms Aishah found her motivation after her sister showed her videos of Serbian-Australian motivational speaker Nick Vujicic, who was born without limbs."I saw how he was living life to the fullest and I learnt to take things positively," she said.

On Saturday, Ms Aishah, who won a shooting gold at the recent National Disability League in Singapore and is headed for the International Paralympic Committee Shooting World Cup next month, knew she had to return the favour to Mr Tan.

She said: "We both had to amputate the same limbs due to a bacterial infection and we both have two children to care for.

"I understand what he's going through and that's why I want to show Mr Tan that he will be able to pull through this."

Mr Tan's wife, Madam Choong Siet Mei, 47, was also thankful for Ms Aishah's visit.

Madam Choong, a housewife, said: "When I saw Aishah, I felt so relieved. She made me feel that things were going to be okay."

Talking to Ms Aishah about her experiences has helped Mr Tan immeasurably.

He said: "I kept thinking of all the questions and doubts I had, but after seeing her and listening to her experience, I don't have anything left to wonder about."

Mr Tan added that he was really touched by the tremendous amount of support that he and his family have received from the public.

"I never would have expected to receive so much help from people.

"Everything that's happening now really encourages me not to give up."

Cause of condition still under investigation

Mr Tan Whee Boon was taken to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) in the wee hours of July 13, in what initially seemed like a standard case of food poisoning - vomiting, diarrhoea and bouts of fever.

In the first two weeks of his three-week stay in the intensive care unit, Mr Tan was given a drug that directs blood flow to his vital organs.

The drug caused a narrowing of the blood vessels in his body, which meant less blood could flow to his extremities, said his wife, Madam Choong Siet Mei. The lack of oxygen caused his hands and feet to turn gangrenous.

A diagnosis at KTPH revealed that the technician had severe pneumonia that was complicated by sepsis that led to gangrene on his hands and feet.

Three days before he was taken to the hospital, Mr Tan had eaten a rawfish dish, or yusheng, at a food centre in Chinatown.

The doctors are still looking into the exact cause of his condition but initial investigations found three types of bacteria in Mr Tan's body.


One of them was Group B Streptococcus (GBS), a bacterium commonly found in the gut and urinary tract of about 15 to 30 per cent of adults without causing any disease.

GBS, however, may occasionally cause infections of the skin, joints, heart and brain.

The risk factors for GBS infection include underlying chronic or co-morbidities, such as diabetes.

GBS can also be found in fish, but this does not pose an issue if the fish is well cooked before consumption.

Last month, the Ministry of Health launched an investigation into a limited number of identified cases and found an association between raw fish consumption and GBS infections.

More cases will need to be studied for a more definitive conclusion, the ministry said.

KTPH's medical team said it is still looking into any possible link between Mr Tan's condition and the raw fish he had eaten.


This article was first published on Aug 17, 2015.
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