Despite her struggles with rare genetic disorder, N-level student gets into optician course at ITE

Student Jerlyn Loh Chiou Ting, with her mother Joanne Yap and brother Javier Loh, on Dec 19, 2019. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - About two years ago when she was 14 years old, Jerlyn Loh suffered from migraines, which were often triggered by sharp or loud sounds and bright lights.

The attacks would hit her in the afternoon and force her to take a break from class.

Her family learnt that the Greenridge Secondary student, who collected her N-level results on Thursday (Dec 19), has Melas. The genetic disorder can affect the brain and muscles.

Melas is short for Mitochondrial Encephalopathy, Lactic Acidosis and Stroke-like Episodes. Symptoms include recurrent headaches and muscle weakness.

Her mother, Ms Joanne Yap, said: "She was quite tired, not energetic, and always having headaches, especially when she was stressed by exams. But we didn't know it was so serious."

It was only in 2017, after her younger son Javier had to undergo a kidney transplant, that doctors ran a series of genetic tests and discovered Jerlyn's condition.

The family learnt that they all had the same disorder, although only Jerlyn showed symptoms.

She is now on medication - more than 20 pills per day - to stabilise the condition and prevent any strokes. She also goes for check-ups to keep the disorder in check.

"Sometimes the headaches are so painful that I don't want people to talk to me, or I shut myself out and listen to soothing music," said Jerlyn, who also found out recently that her kidneys are not functioning well.

"I was very devastated because I have seen my brother go through the transplant process and I don't want to add another burden to my mum in terms of medical fees."

Ms Yap, 42, who works as a senior technical support officer in the marine industry, said both children's medical fees are partly covered by financial assistance. Their father does not live with them.

Despite her own challenges, Jerlyn mustered the strength to look after her brother, who just finished Secondary 1 in the same school.

She had to leave her Scouts co-curricular activity sessions early to help her brother with his kidney dialysis machine at home for more than half a year.

When she missed out on lessons due to her illness, she would ask her teachers and friends for help so that she could catch up in her studies.

She even took up leadership positions in Scouts as a patrol leader and became head of welfare in the school's student council executive committee.

Despite the challenges, Jerlyn has qualified for the opticianry course at the Institute of Technical Education under the early admissions exercise, where students apply on the basis of aptitude.

Ms Yap said: "She is a very mature girl and diligent learner. I hope she studies and grows up well. When she's happy, we're all very happy together."

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