Causes Week

Girl, 9, makes a wish and gets to be scientist for a day

Make-A-Wish Foundation and A*Star realise young kidney patient's dream. Causes Week features stories about charities and causes, as well as people and organisations raising funds for them

WHEN nine-year-old Losheni Meenakshi Sundaram left her Yishun home yesterday morning with her parents and little sister, she thought she was going to the hospital yet again.

For half her life, Losheni has been in and out of hospitals, being treated for end-stage kidney failure. Just the day before, she and her mother had met their regular doctor at the National University Hospital.

But the gold maxicab ferrying the family yesterday turned towards the A*Star Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) at Biopolis, a research campus at Buona Vista.

They were ushered into a glass-walled meeting room filled with researchers. "Today, you're going to be a real scientist," said IBN executive director Jackie Ying.

The Northland Primary pupil, who will be in Primary 4 next year, gasped in surprise.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation was granting its first-ever "scientist for a day" wish here.

The foundation grants wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses. It has enabled more than 800 children to be policemen, doctors or race-car drivers for a day in its 10 years of operations here.

Losheni has always been interested in science, said her mother, Madam Priya Sivasubbramaniam, 34, a former science lecturer who now looks after the girls full time. "She is the kind of child who wants exact answers to questions like 'How does lightning happen?'"

Losheni even received her own lab coat, with her name embroidered on it in pink.

In the lab, research scientist Leong Meng Fatt, 36, showed Losheni how two liquid polymers reacted to form a porous thread of fibre, and how these fibres could act as the "scaffold" for cells to be lab-grown into the right shape - for bone, liver, or kidney.

Losheni was tasked with finding out whether different kinds of cells could survive in the scaffolding material. She peppered Dr Leong with questions. "Where do the cells come from?" "Why do we put the cells into one polymer but not the other?" Afterwards, she hauled the researchers back into the lab to examine her own hand under a microscope.

"She asked very good questions," Dr Leong said.

Said Losheni: "I want to be a scientist because I want to help people."

After giving a presentation on her "findings", Losheni and her family were whisked off to lunch and the foundation's annual Christmas party at Singapore Expo, which was attended by some 1,000 people, including beneficiaries and their families.

Not once did Losheni, who for the past year has had to undergo 10 hours of dialysis at home every night, complain that she was tired or in pain.

On Dec 26, she will get a new kidney from her mother.

"I wouldn't say she's not scared," Madam Priya said. "But she knows she'll get a better life."

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