Photo: Azmi Athni
Three years ago, when Ms Stephanie Lim was seven months pregnant with her fourth child, she suffered a stroke.
“I was at the foodcourt with my family, and I suddenly couldn’t hear,” she recalled. “Then I collapsed.”
Her pregnancy had been normal up to that point. Earlier that day, the former marketing and business executive had even gone to the gynaecologist for a routine check-up, and was given a clean bill of health.
When the stroke happened, her husband, Mr Christopher Goh, rushed her to the National University Hospital (NUH). There, doctors found she had had a subarachnoid haemorrhage, although they did not know what had triggered it.
This is a type of stroke where a blood vessel in the brain bursts, leaking blood into the space around the brain.
“There were two teams of doctors so that we could save both lives,” recalled Mr Goh, 43 , who works as a manager in the aviation line. “One was to take out the baby because they couldn’t give her medicine (for the stroke) with the baby still in there.”
An emergency caesarean section was performed to save their daughter’s life before Ms Lim underwent surgery to relieve the pressure on her brain.
Ms Lim was in a coma for two weeks. Doctors told Mr Goh she had only a 5 per cent chance of survival.
Her first thought when she saw her new daughter was how small the baby was. “She was so tiny,” recalled Ms Lim, now 41. “She was put in the incubator because she was premature.”
That first meeting lasted just five minutes as doctors feared that the baby would be exposed to potential infectious diseases in the high-dependency ward that Ms Lim was in at the time.
After nearly four months in hospital, Ms Lim was discharged. Now, she still has rehabilitation at Ren Ci Hospital on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She also visits the Stroke Support Station in Redhill thrice a week to interact with other stroke survivors. The left half of her body remains weak and she has to use a wheelchair to get around.
Life is not easy. Her parents-in-law are taking care of her youngest child because she is unable to do so herself. Her three older children are 12, 13, and 14 years old.
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Going out for family meals can be a challenge because they have to find places with ramps for her wheelchair.
Still, there are the little triumphs. When Ms Lim was first discharged, she had to be tube-fed and could not drink water without adding a thickener to prevent her from choking.
Now, she can take solid food and drink water like a regular person. She has also started taking public transport to the Stroke Support Station – a journey which requires her to change trains at least twice.
“Being positive goes a long way,” Ms Lim said. “You can’t change what has happened. You just have to go forward.”
This story was originally published in The Straits Times on May 24, 2016.