She's 21 and still a fighter

PHOTO: She's 21 and still a fighter

Turning 21 is a milestone.

But for Miss Ng Poh Peng, crossing the threshold into adulthood is all the more special because doctors had not expected her to live beyond two weeks when she was born.

Miss Ng was born in 1991 with congenital ichthyosis, a rare incurable hereditary skin disorder which causes her skin to flake off like fish scales, exposing pink skin underneath.

Against all odds, she turned 21 on Feb 11.

Said her father, Mr Ng Swee Siah, 52, in Mandarin: “It’s not easy for her to make it to 21 years of age. It is something I never even dared think about.

“When she was born, the doctors told us she would live for two weeks at most, then two months, then 10years. Now she has grown up to be an adult.”

But Miss Ng’s 21st birthday was one of mixed feelings, as one of her maternal uncles died two days before, on Feb 9.

Her family had planned to celebrate her birthday with a party for more than 40 friends and relatives at home, but they had to cancel their plans.

Instead, Miss Ng went with her family to her uncle’s hometown in Mersing, Johor, for the funeral.

Said Miss Ng during an interview at her home in Chai Chee: “I was very sad over my uncle’s death. It made me realise that life is brittle and fragile.

“At the same time, I felt very glad that I am still alive and have the opportunity to be with my family.”

Her father decided to hold a simple belated birthday dinner for her on Sunday.

Miss Ng invited her best friend from her primary school and also her cousin. And she was pleasantly surprised by a special VIP guest, Member of Parliament Seng Han Thong, who gave her an iPad as a present.

Mr Seng remembers Miss Ng’s story well.

Wish for good health

In 1991, he was the editor of Shin Min Daily News and remembers being very touched by her story which was also carried in the paper.

Said Mr Seng: “I felt very privileged to be able to celebrate such a joyful occasion with Poh Peng’s family.

“I am very relieved that she has grown up and is able to lead a working life with the support of her family andfriends.

“Her parents and siblings have taken such good care of her. I am sure many Singaporeans who know about her story are also happy for her.”

Mr Seng had asked Miss Ng this question: If you could have only one wish, what would it be?

He said: “Her reply was good health. For someone with her condition, good health is most important.”

Mr Seng said he enjoyed some of the home-cooked food made by Miss Ng’s mother.

In October 1991, The New Paper wrote about her condition. Miss Ng was known as Baby Poh Peng.

The Chinese-language Shin Min Daily News started a fund for her in 1991, which raised $296,000 that year to help with her care. Her parents decided to donate half of the sum to charity.

Her health has improved

Said her father: “Back then, the doctors told us she wouldn’t live past 10 years old. But we have no regrets giving away the money because there were others who needed it more.

“We can work and earn our own money. What is more important is that we are together as a family, and live each day peacefully and happily.”

Last year in March, Miss Ng obtained a Higher National ITE Certificate in Accounting.

She had looked for a job to no avail for six months until Dr Low Chai Ling, the founder of aesthetic chain The Sloane Clinic, read her story in The New Paper and offered her a job.

Said Dr Low: “I found that Poh Peng wanted a job to be financially independent and to feel useful, but had difficulty securing employment as she could not leave her home and her condition made it hard for her to do certain types of work. Hence, we decided to offer her a role with us.”

Miss Ng joined The Sloane Clinic last September as a web administrator and works from home. She works on an iPad provided by the clinic and her work takes up about five hours a day.

In the last year, her health has improved, much to her parents’ relief.

Miss Ng, who has low immunity due to her condition, has not made as many trips to the hospital. She used to suffer from bouts of fever and vomiting every few months.

Keeping her spirits up

She seldom leaves home so as to cut down on unnecessary expenditure and she prefers to lead a simple life. Her hobbies are reading e-books because they are free, and playing online games.

She contributes around $100 to $200 each month to the family.

Miss Ng maintains an upbeat attitude, despite worries over her family’s financial state. Her father, who was working as a delivery man, recently lost his job and is looking for a new job.

Their family of five – including Miss Ng’s siblings, Amy, 15, and Kelvin 17 – was previously getting by on a combined family income of around $2,000 a month.

She has also learnt to take in her stride questions and remarks from strangers about her appearance.

Said Miss Ng: “When I get asked why am I like that, I simply say I was born like this.”

When asked what hopes she had for the future, MissNg said: “I don’t know what tomorrow is going to be. I am happy to live one day at a time, and live each day to the fullest.”

This article was first published in The New Paper.