Man, 79, has suffered from elephantiasis for 18 years

Mr Chatayan Kara Abdul Kader. Photo: BH

All he wanted was to go home from hospital so that he could perform the Ramadan fast in familiar surroundings.

Mr Chatayan Kara Abdul Kader, who has elephantiasis, was admitted to Changi General Hospital on Saturday, after he complained of being giddy while at the Senior Activity Centre near his home in Chai Chee Road.

Yesterday afternoon, the 79-year-old got his wish.

"At least now I can perform my duties in peace," he told The New Paper.

He has a strong desire to fast despite the fact that given his age and condition, he is allowed to break his fast.

Mr Chatayan, whose family is in India, has been living in a one-room rental flat, which he shares with a flatmate, for more than 20 years.

"I have bought some dates and I just want to be at home for the first day of Ramadan," he said when The New Paper visited him on Tuesday in hospital.

Taking care of his leg is tedious.

"I need to make sure that every inch of my right leg is washed," he said.

As he said that, he gestured to his right leg, which is at least twice as big as his left and covered in thickened skin. The skin on the lower part of his right leg is darker than the skin on his left leg.

Mr Chatayan said he can walk on his own with support from a cane or a wall.

He feels pain in his leg only when it swells up even more.

"When that happens, I also get feverish. I will go down to the doctor downstairs for an injection to help me recover," he said.

World Health Organisation (WHO) says lymphatic filariasis, or elephantiasis to give it its more common name, is a parasitic infection that alters a body's lymphatic condition, causing a body part to swell beyond its normal size. 

Associate Professor Lim Poh Lian, head & senior consultant, Department Of Infectious Diseases at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, said that the swelling is not due to excess fluid in the leg but the result of blocked lymph channels.

She added that although it is treatable if diagnosed early, treatment may not completely reverse the blockage.

The disease is an infection caused by a parasite that is transmitted by mosquitoes, said Professor Lim.

Mr Chatayan said he has been living with this condition for at least 18 years.

He was not able to say when exactly he got it. He became aware of his condition only when his right foot became too big for his sandals.

SPECIAL SANDALS

Now he has to wear specially-made sandals from India.

"I had these made the last time I went to India to visit my wife and family," he said.

Originally from Kerala, India, he said he came to Singapore alone in 1950. His wife and six children live in India and he used to visit them at least once a year.

"I was working before, so I could save up to visit my family regularly. Now, I can't because I don't have any money," said Mr Chatayan, who last visited his family in 2013.

He said he used to have a provision shop in the 70s and then became a cashier at a coffee shop after he had to close down his shop.

Since he has stopped working, he relies on charity to survive.

A spokesman for South East Community Development Council said Mr Chatayan has been receiving public assistance from the Ministry of Social and Family Development since 2005.

Mr Chatayan said he receives $450 every month in public assistance. He uses that money to pay for his rent, utilities and food.

Whatever is left over, he saves to send home to his 63-year-old wife.

"She is also old and poor like me, so if I can send back money, I will. That is my responsibility," he said.

That sense of responsibility motivates him to regularly attend Friday prayers at the Al-Ansar mosque, near his home.

He uses his cane to slowly make his way from the bus stop to the mosque.

"I am grateful for all the help I have received so far," he said.

"Although I don't understand why I have to suffer like this, I have accepted my fate and all I can do is pray and be patient."

Spread through mosquitoes

Lymphatic filariasis, or elephantiasis, is a parasitic infection that results in an altered lymphatic system and abnormal enlargement of body parts, said the World Health Organisation (WHO).

More than 120 million people are infected globally and about 40 million are disfigured or incapacitated by the disease.

The parasite is spread through mosquitoes and is more common in developing countries and rural areas. Symptoms include inflamed and swelling skin, fever, headache and pain in muscles.

The most visible sign is the swelling of the lower or upper limbs due to the inflammation of the lymphatic vessels.

Symptoms are treated with antibiotics.

Associate Professor Lim Poh Lian, head and senior consultant, Department Of Infectious Diseases at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, said that although the problem is not fatal, it causes a lot of disability and misery.

One way to prevent it is to use insect repellents to prevent mosquito bites.


This article was first published on June 20, 2015.
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