I've learnt to count my blessings: Para-athlete Jeremiah Tan

Mr Jeremiah Tan has dug deep past his "never-ending cycle" of setbacks to see the brighter side of life.

Whether it is coping with rickets, which affects bone development, suffering a brain tumour that caused him to lose his ability to spell and write, or facing dyslexia, he has bounced back from each setback.

The 20-year-old's response to these challenges won him the Dyslexia Association of Singapore's (DAS) Young Achiever Award last Saturday.

He is also on Singapore's Cerebral Palsy football team, which will be competing in the ASEAN Para Games next month.

Born with rickets, he is on lifelong medication to keep the enzyme levels in his blood high enough to keep it under control. He was also born with squints, which means his eyes are misaligned.

In 2004, doctors discovered a tumour with a diameter of a 50 cent coin on his brain stem which required surgery to remove.

In 2008, he was diagnosed with dyslexia after his teacher suspected he might have a learning disability.

Mr Tan said: "It was like life was throwing everything at me and it was never going to end."

Yet he did not let all these obstacles affect his life.

Growing up with rickets, Mr Tan was often bullied while studying in Maris Stella High School (Primary).

He said: "People would come up to me and say 'Hey, you walk like a duck'.

"But I didn't let what they say affect me and I just let it be because my mother has always told me that bullies just want to see a reaction from me."

In mid-April 2004, Mr Tan coughed out blood while sitting for a Chinese continual assessment in school.

He was taken to the Accident and Emergency Department at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) but the doctors did not find anything wrong and allowed him to return home that day.

A week later, during a routine eye check-up due to the squints, Mr Tan's doctor noticed a dot. 


He was admitted to KKH after doctors discovered a tumour in his brain.

The doctors said his condition was "a matter of life and death" and operated on him the next day.

Mr Tan said: "Prior to this, I didn't notice any symptoms other than headache and giddiness, but I thought they were because of my squints."

He stayed in hospital for about three weeks and was discharged in late-May to recuperate at home before starting school in January 2005.

However, the operation weakened the left side of his body and he lost the ability to do things which required basic motor skills.

"I was unable to spell and write. Things like brushing my teeth, eating and even picking up a pencil proved to be challenges for me and I had to be aided by others," said Mr Tan.

And to top it off, he had to learn to walk once more.

"It was very hard for me. It was as though something which I thought I had a firm grip on was taken away from me suddenly just like that.

"I had to start from the beginning. It was like growing up all over again," said Mr Tan.

In 2008, Mr Tan's form teacher, Madam T.H. Ong, suspected he had a learning disability six months before his Primary School Leaving Examination. He was diagnosed with dyslexia after undergoing an assessment at DAS.

"I didn't see a lot of signs of being dyslexic, even though reading was a challenge for me. I would skip words when reading a comprehension (passage) and I couldn't tell apart the strokes in the Chinese characters.

"But I was lenient with myself and just thought that I had missed out on studies because I skipped school for nearly a year due to the brain tumour," said Mr Tan.

He enrolled in DAS at the end of 2008, took weekly workshops to improve his literary skills and graduated from the school in 2012.

Mr Tan's mother, Ms Isabella Sim, 54, an administrative assistant, said: "I am proud and grateful of (and for) Jeremiah. He certainly knows his potential and the challenges he faces.

"He is thankful for the doors of opportunities that were opened for him and he works hard to show that his efforts will not be in vain."

Mr Tan is now studying broadcast media in LaSalle College of the Arts and is training for the ASEAN Para Games.

He said: "My life hasn't been an easy journey, but over the years I've come to accept who I am.

"I've learnt to count my blessings because there are other people who are worse off than I am.

"I would like to tell other people who have disabilities like me to hang in there and not give up.

"Try to see things from a different perspective. Just because you have a disability, it doesn't mean it's the end of the world.

"Don't take things day by day and wander aimlessly. Your disability is what sets you apart, but dig deep and see the good out of bad things."


This article was first published on November 25, 2015.
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