He overcame pain to go back to school

Mr Lim rekindled his love for reading and writing and enrolled in Singapore Polytechnic's Diploma in Creative Writing for TV and New Media when he was 30 years old.
PHOTO: The New Paper

At the age of 24, he dropped out of the Singapore Institute of Management where he was pursuing a bachelor's degree in business.

It had became physically impossible for him to continue.

Mr Lim Tong Lee suffers from a rare autoimmune disorder - where the body attacks itself. He suffers from painful blood-and pus-filled blisters on his body that would burst.

"I was in a constant mode of numb pain," he said.

Instead of letting the condition, called vesiculobullous disease, rule his life, the 33-year-old battled back, re-enrolled in school, and next week, he will graduate from Singapore Polytechnic's Diploma in Creative Writing for TV and New Media.

He recalled how it started with blisters on his left foot nearing the end of his national service back in 2005 and it soon spread on his other foot and both arms and palms.

His mother, Madam Lim Peck Geok, a 76-year-old widow, spent close to $10,000 on various treatments and medication, for her son. These ranged from acupuncture to steroid cream to phototherapy - light treatment which was supposed to reduce the itch and inflammation.

But new blisters formed at a faster rate.

"It was mostly trial and error because the doctors couldn't figure out what exactly was the problem then ," said Mr Lim.

"There is no cure for it since it is an autoimmune disease and medication only helps to mitigate the symptoms."

Due to his condition, Mr Lim is unable to walk or write properly as there would be pus and blood whenever the blisters burst.

When a blister formed on the sole of his foot, he bled with each step he took.

"The pus would stain my bedsheets, making it very difficult for my mother to wash," said Mr Lim.

Donning long-sleeved shirts and thick socks to prevent the pus from dirtying his shoes was a common thing for Mr Lim.

His condition finally improved after he tried a drug that suppresses the immune system in 2013.

When TNP met him last Friday, he had only some dried skin and scars.

Because of his improved condition, he decided to study again and enrolled in SP.

"I felt very guilty since my mother is old and my income as a primary school tuition teacher was not enough (to support my mother and myself)," Mr Lim said.

However, juggling his health, work and studies was no easy feat.

MISSING CLASS

He often had to miss classes when his condition acted up. His classmates, whom he described as "very kind and understanding" , often gave him their notes.

For modules that required filming, his classmates and lecturers arranged for him to do more pre-production and post-production work as he was unable to work outdoors for long hours.

"Filming can last from dawn to dusk and my blisters would start to form when I was in the sun for too long," said Mr Lim as he touched a scar on his left palm.

When Mr Lim was a final-year student, he did a six-month internship at the Autism Resource Network where he edited press releases and filmed training videos.

His supervisor, Mr Dino Trakakis, 55, the network's managing director, was worried that it would not work out. But, he was pleasantly surprised when Mr Lim soon "blossomed", he said.

Mr Trakakis said Mr Lim demonstrated initiative that he had not expected or seen.

"He never used his skin condition as an excuse to skive off work and I salute him for that," said Mr Trakakis with pride.


This article was first published on May 3, 2016.
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