Lupus and blindness can't keep her down
Poly graduate persevered despite blindness and autoimmune disease
Days after being admitted to hospital in June 2011, she suffered a stroke and went permanently blind in her left eye.
This was after two weeks of fever, joint pains, diarrhoea, vision blackouts and breathing difficulties.
It was a trying time for someone who was sitting her O-level examinations that year.
Things got worse for Ms Fanny Mong Li Yu when she was told she had Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), the most common type of lupus, and that there was no way she could sit the exams.
Ms Mong, now 21, managed to deal with her disease and graduated from Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) last Thursday with a Diploma in Food Science and Nutrition.
When The New Paper (TNP) visited her in her home, a three-room flat in Sin Ming, on Friday, her mother, Madam Serene Ho Yi Xuan, 50, a beautician, recalled in Mandarin how her daughter went blind four days after being hospitalised.
Ms Mong was hit by what she thought was another vision blackout, but one that did not seem to be short-lived, as had been the case with previous episodes.
Frightened, she immediately called the nurse and her mother, who was at home.
Said Madam Ho: "She was crying and said she couldn't see anything.
"I was scared and panicking at first, but I told her to stay strong till I came."
In the same hour, Ms Mong suffered a stroke on the left side of her body.
After several tests, she was diagnosed with SLE.
Associate Professor Leong Keng Hong, vice-president of the Lupus Association (Singapore), said SLE is an autoimmune disease where the immune system that is supposed to protect the body gets confused and attacks itself.
Due to SLE, Ms Mong had developed two blood clots, one behind her left eye and one at the right side of the brain.
She went blind in her left eye.
Ms Mong was discharged three weeks later.
For six months, she stayed at home to recuperate and underwent physical therapy at a rehabilitation centre.
Her mother took three months' unpaid leave from work to care for her.
With the help of family and friends, Ms Mong began to cope with only one eye.
The following year, she repeated Secondary Four.
But she felt isolated from her new cohort and was upset by snide remarks that others made about her "extra time" in school.
After her O levels, she went through surgery to decrease the pressure on her left eye.
She then started volunteer work with the Lupus Association and a group focused on helping the poor.
"It made me realise I shouldn't be sad, because I saw others in worse situations than me and they were still living well," she said.
She moved on to NYP, where she made new friends and grew more confident.
She had classmates and teachers who would look out for her and help her when using the stairs.
Her graduation last week was a milestone celebrated by her family.
"Throughout these three years, it wasn't easy," said Ms Mong.
"I finally did it. I didn't use extra time (to complete her course), I'm the same as the rest."
Said Madam Ho: "I'm really happy and proud of her for graduating. I'm especially grateful that she managed to make it this far."
Lupus Association's president, Mrs Irene Lim, said Ms Mong is an "inspirational girl".
"Despite her disability, she still got to where she is now," said Mrs Lim
Lupus can damage organs, cause death
The Lupus Association (Singapore) celebrated its 25th anniversary and World Lupus Day on Saturday at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
The most common type of lupus is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), an autoimmune disease where the immune system that is supposed to protect the body gets confused and attacks itself.
Termed as the disease of a thousand faces, SLE can attack any organ in the body. It can damage organs and even cause death.
In Singapore, it is as common as leukaemia, with around 4,000 to 5,000 SLE patients here.
Sufferers are usually women aged 20 to 45 years old.
SLE is also more common and severe in Asians and Afro-Caribbeans.