61-year-old with muscular dystrophy recognised for championing disability causes

Ms Sherena Loh was one of the four UBS Achievement award winners at the Goh Chok Tong Enable Awards.
Ms Sherena Loh was one of the four UBS Achievement award winners at the Goh Chok Tong Enable Awards.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - When she was 15 years old, Ms Sherena Loh was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and told by doctors that she would not live past 25.

But she did, and then spent much of her life championing causes for the disability community. She co-founded the Muscular Dystrophy Association (Singapore) (MDAS) in 2000.

On Thursday (Dec 3), Ms Loh, 61, was one of the four UBS Achievement award winners at the Goh Chok Tong Enable Awards.

She said that she would fall frequently as a child due to declining muscle function brought about by her condition.

"Falling became my greatest fear as I had difficulty getting up on my own. It was not just about physical injury or pain, but also impacted me emotionally and psychologically," said Ms Loh.

On one occasion in her early 20s, Ms Loh was alone when she encountered a large pack of dogs in a private estate. "In my fear, my legs turned soft and I fell to the ground," she said.

"Two people that I spotted ignored my cries for help. One dog came near me and I sensed a sympathetic look in his eyes. Then he left," said Ms Loh.

"In that moment, I wondered why this dog showed more sympathy than people. This spurred me to be an active volunteer for persons with physical disabilities," she said.

She volunteered with the Handicaps Welfare Association for some years before co-founding MDAS, where she is now a director.

The association started as a support group for persons with muscular dystrophy and their families and has now evolved into a "skills for life" centre, with courses for those with afflicted by the condition.

Ms Loh said she had long-term care plans for MDAS, such as opening a respite care centre where people could stay for a short time, benefiting from a combination of activities and care. This would also give caregivers a much needed break.

On receiving the UBS Achievement award for her advocacy, Ms Loh said: "I believe the award can bring forward positive stories to encourage people with special abilities as well as the general public.

"I hope to continue to give a voice especially to those battling with severe rare diseases, beyond just muscular dystrophy, because they too deserve to live a life with dignity."