Health

From kidney failure patient to sports medallist

From kidney failure patient to sports medallist
Mr Lim Seah Hor, 52, a taxi driver who took part in the World Transplant Games held in Argentina after his kidney transplant, and won three medals. Photo: Robin Choo
Published: 4:18 AM, December 23, 2015
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SINGAPORE — When his kidneys failed 20 years ago, Lim Seah Hor had little hope that he would someday get a second lease of life with a kidney transplant, much less bag a few sporting medals in his lifetime.

On dialysis for a decade before undergoing a successful transplant at National University Hospital (NUH) in 2005, Mr Lim said that he felt as if he had “struck the lottery” when he first received news of a successful kidney match.

He felt luckier still when he was selected to be a World Transplant Games (WTG) candidate for the first time in 2011, after participating in the Singapore Transplant Games organised by the Society of Transplantation (Singapore). This year, the 52-year-old taxi driver was one of six organ transplant recipients from Singapore who took part in the WTG held in Argentina in August.

He brought home three medals; gold for badminton doubles, and bronzes for Tejo singles and doubles, although he has no formal training in either sport. In fact, he had picked up Tejo, a popular Argentinian sport that involves throwing a metal disc across a distance to a clay-covered board, from watching YouTube videos and getting tips from a coach before the games commenced. Overall, the team from Singapore, which took part in events such as badminton and squash, won 19 medals: three golds, four silvers and 12 bronzes.

“Never in my entire life did I imagine I would be able to participate in a world sporting event. I felt so proud standing on the podium holding the Singapore flag,” said Mr Lim, who shared fitness tips to encourage transplant patients to take up exercise at an NUH event earlier this month. In the previous games in 2011 and 2013, he bagged the silver and bronze medal for badminton doubles, respectively.

Mr Lim’s positive and upbeat attitude are a vast difference from his pre-transplant days. His kidneys were irreversibly damaged after his high blood pressure spiralled out of control — one of the leading causes of kidney failure. At the time, he was a single parent with a five-year-old daughter, struggling to make ends meet.

The diagnosis, he shared, tipped him over the edge and he attempted suicide by slitting his wrists. “I was such a danger to myself that the ward nurse had to restrain my hands and legs. I came to my senses after the doctors and social workers counselled me,” he said.

Without a suitable kidney match from his family members, Mr Lim relied on thrice-weekly dialysis to survive. To make ends meet, he clocked 10 to 12 hours of work daily despite struggling with fatigue and ill health.

“Most of my daily taxi earnings went to paying for dialysis treatment. My daughter was cared for by relatives and neighbours, basically anyone who was free to look after her while I worked. Life was tough,” he said.

During those dark moments, Mr Lim started going for weekly badminton sessions with a group of fellow dialysis patients. The sport was a welcome distraction to his daily struggles, he said.

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