Going for more than glory at the Games

Kurt Lium (third from left), 15, training with fellow athletes Sarah Tan, 19, Mark Goh, 25, and a friend, Yeo Sheng Xun (right), 18. Sheng Xun is also a transplant patient but will not be going for the World Transplant Games in Spain later this month
Kurt Lium (third from left), 15, training with fellow athletes Sarah Tan, 19, Mark Goh, 25, and a friend, Yeo Sheng Xun (right), 18. Sheng Xun is also a transplant patient but will not be going for the World Transplant Games in Spain later this month. More than 2,500 transplant recipients from 55 countries will take part in the biennial Games. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
Kurt Lium (third from left), 15, training with fellow athletes Sarah Tan, 19, Mark Goh, 25, and a friend, Yeo Sheng Xun (right), 18. Sheng Xun is also a transplant patient but will not be going for the World Transplant Games in Spain later this month
Architect Gladys Domingo, a kidney transplant patient, will be paying her own way to take part in the Games.

At 15, Kurt Lium will be the youngest transplant patient among the dozen representing Singapore at the World Transplant Games (WTG) in Spain later this month.

He has been training hard to compete in bowling, badminton and the 100m sprint, even though his favourite sport is basketball, which he plays almost daily as a member of his school team.

While it is a WTG sport, Singapore will not be sending a team. But this does not really matter to Kurt, who is excited to represent Singapore. More than 2,500 transplant recipients from 55 countries will take part in the International Olympic Committee-recognised biennial Games from June 25 to July 2.

Singapore's 12 athletes are aged from 15 to 69. To maximise their medal chances, they will each take part in at least two sports.

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At the last Games in Argentina in 2015, Singapore's six-member team won three gold, four silver and 12 bronze medals.

Even though he considers bowling and badminton "leisure" sports that he plays with his friends, Kurt has been pushing himself to excel in them and in the sprint.

The Kent Ridge Secondary School student had kidney failure as a toddler and received a kidney from his mother at the age of four at the National University Hospital.

FULL SUPPORT

We are very proud of Kurt... and we are behind him all the way as he takes part in this World Transplant Games.

MRS ANBA SAROJA, Kurt's school principal, who added that the 15-year-old is an inspiration to many as he leads a normal life.

"The first few years, we were worried about rejection and infection. But we can't worry too much or he won't live a normal life," said his mother, Madam Lim Hwee Leng.

The immunosuppressants he has to take for life raise his blood pressure, so he needs medication for that. It has affected his gums, leading to small teeth. But these problems do not bother him, she said.

Kurt's school principal, Mrs Anba Saroja, said the teachers were "mindful" of his condition at first, "but he is an inspiration to many as he leads a normal life". She added: "We are very proud of Kurt... and we are behind him all the way as he takes part in this WTG."

Kurt's parents, who run a food stall in Jurong, will be with him on the 10-day trip because there are no doctors or nurses going. His mother was told that should anything happen that needed follow-up, parental consent would be needed as Kurt is a minor.

While they needed to pay only $600 for Kurt, with the rest paid for by the Society of Organ Transplantation (SOT), they have to foot their own bills for the trip.

Madam Lim said it is a "sacrifice" they are willing to make to give him the chance to take part.

Another kidney transplant patient, architect Gladys Domingo, will be paying her own way, although she qualifies for support.

"I can afford to and the SOT has some financial difficulty," she said.

She has taken part in the WTG before, winning medals in both her sports - table tennis and golf.

Since the SOT could not afford to send a team manager this year, her husband, Mr Ben Berkhof, who will be going to support her, has volunteered to take up the position.

Ms Domingo, 46, has taken part in three WTGs, winning at least a medal at each. She said taking part is a way to "honour our donor, our true hero, for giving us a chance to enjoy our life". At the Games, recipients from different countries share their stories and tips on how to stay healthy, she said.

She has made many friends at the Games. She added that while they all aim to win medals, just taking part makes them "winners".

Salma Khalik

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2017, with the headline 'Going for more than glory at the Games'. Print Edition | Subscribe