SINGAPORE – When Mr Lim Wen Ming learnt he had only three months to live after he was diagnosed with Wilson’s disease in September 2021, he was devastated.
His wife, Ms Jeryn Lin, then 29, was two months pregnant and he feared he would not be able to witness the birth of their first child, a daughter.
“When I first heard about how I had this disease, I was in denial. I have been living a healthy life since I was young. I didn’t believe I was critically ill,” said the Singaporean, who was 32 then.
Wilson’s disease is a genetic condition where excess copper builds up in the body and results in liver cirrhosis or scarring. It affects one in 30,000 people in Singapore and can cause acute liver failure.
In August 2021, Mr Lim, a public servant, began experiencing abdominal and lower limb swelling.
When the symptoms continued for a few weeks, a doctor advised him to visit a hospital. He was referred to Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and, after undergoing blood and genetic tests, he was confirmed to have Wilson’s disease.
In September 2021, a 40 deg C fever due to an acute infection led to Mr Lim being admitted to SGH.
Although he was treating the disease with zinc to reduce copper absorption and D-penicillamine to remove excess copper from his system, his condition worsened.
The doctors at SGH confirmed he had acute liver failure and there was a high risk of death.
Speaking to reporters during an interview on Nov 25, Dr Thinesh L. Krishnamoorthy, a senior consultant at SGH’s department of gastroenterology and hepatology, said there is no cure for Wilson’s disease, except for a liver transplant.
Usually, the wait for a living donor liver transplant is between six and eight weeks, as the hospital has to check the health status of the donor and the recipient, ensuring that there is a suitable match and approval from the Ministry of Health.
However, SGH was able to speed up preparations for Mr Lim’s transplant surgery to just three days due to the urgency of his condition. His brother, Mr Lim Wen Cong, then 29, volunteered to donate part of his liver.
Tearing up as he recalled the experience, Mr Lim Wen Cong said: “I could not bear to see my niece without her father when she is born.
“The staff at SGH guided me throughout the (organ donation) process and made me feel safe enough to step forward.”
Mr Lim Wen Ming said: “My brother was very brave throughout this entire ordeal. He didn’t show any sign of fear. He always reassured me that his liver would be a match.
“He told me he would take care of our parents and my wife, and that gave me the confidence that we would pull through this together.”
On Oct 14, 2021, a team of about 20 doctors and nurses, including SGH’s Professor Brian Goh Kim Poh and Associate Professor Prema Raj, who heads the SingHealth Duke-NUS Transplant Centre, operated on the brothers.
Mr Lim Wen Cong, a sales support executive in the information technology industry, underwent a laparoscopic hepatectomy, a keyhole procedure in which doctors operate on the liver through small cuts in the abdomen ranging from 1cm to 8cm.
A traditional open surgery usually requires a 30cm to 50cm incision.
Prof Goh, who is the head of SGH’s hepato-pancreato-biliary and transplant surgery department, noted that the amount of blood lost and length of hospital stay are reduced for patients who undergo the keyhole procedure compared with traditional open surgery.
After an 18-hour surgery and undergoing further check-ups, Mr Lim Wen Ming, who has insurance coverage, was discharged in December 2021. He now has to follow a strict regimen that includes not eating raw food and doing physiotherapy exercises.
“I had just one aim – I wanted to be discharged from hospital well enough and able to take care of my wife,” he said, referring to Ms Lin, an administrative executive who gave birth in April 2022 to their daughter, who is now seven months old.
“To be there to hold my wife’s hand and witness the birth of my baby is something I will never forget. I really must thank everyone who made this possible.”
Those who wish to find out more about organ donation can call the National Organ Transplant Unit hotline on 6321-4390.