National swimmer Roanne Ho survives brush with death

Roanne Ho's hopes of qualifying for August's Olympics may have suffered a blow, but the swimmer is just happy to be alive after surviving a life-threatening condition.

On Wednesday, the SEA Games 50m breaststroke champion went to Bukit Batok Polyclinic to seek treatment for what she thought was "a very bad cough".

But an X-ray showed her right lung had collapsed 80 per cent. Ho was rushed to the accident and emergency department at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.

There, a tube was inserted into her chest to drain the air around the lung so that it could re-expand. She has been hospitalised since.

"When the X-ray showed that my lung had collapsed, my doctor told me it was life-threatening and I could have died if I delayed treatment," the 23-year-old told The Straits Times.

"I feel lucky just to be alive, and for now the priority is to get better."

She has been advised to sit out the March 16-20 Singapore National Age Group Championships (Snag), the last Olympic qualifier for athletes based here.

Ho was aiming to hit the Olympic "B" time of 1min 10.22sec for the 100m breast, which would give her an outside chance of competing in Rio. Her personal best is 1:11.33.

Rating her chances of swimming in the Snag at 30 per cent, she said: "After the procedure, I felt much better and coughed less. But I was told there's a high chance of a relapse, so we'll have to see."

National coach Sergio Lopez said yesterday: "The high-performance team visited Roanne this morning and she is currently recuperating under medical observation. While she is highly committed to her training, her health and well-being are of utmost priority and we would like to wish her a speedy recovery.

"It was good to see the smile on her face and the positivity in her."

The affable Ho told ST that she first started coughing on Dec 18, but decided to travel with the national team to the United States on Boxing Day as she looked to be recovering.

All seemed okay in Jacksonville, Florida, until the group flew to Texas for the Jan 15-17 Arena Pro Swim Series in Austin.

There, the cough got worse and she felt breathless easily. It caused her to sit out the meet. She saw a doctor but was told she could be suffering from bronchitis.

"I didn't feel any pain, but I couldn't walk five minutes without feeling breathless. I was given inhalers, steroids and antibiotics but none of them worked," Ho recalled.

She arrived in Singapore at 1am on Wednesday, made the trip to the polyclinic just hours later where she insisted on being X-rayed. The national 50m breaststroke record holder will undergo another scan today to see if her lung has recovered.

The road ahead is still unclear, but an optimistic Ho said: "There is still the SEA Games next year, so maybe I'll slowly build up to that."

This article was first published on January 23, 2016.
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