Swimming instructor, 23, dies after virus triggers rare immune disorder

Benedict James Naden Lim (third from left) and his family on holiday in New Zealand in December 2018.
Benedict James Naden Lim (third from left) and his family on holiday in New Zealand in December 2018.PHOTO: BENJAMIN NADEN

Swimming instructor Benedict James Naden Lim, 23, swam competitively for the Singapore Institute of Management and was a fit young man who was careful about what he ate and kept a strict fitness regimen.

When he fell ill in June, Mr Naden thought his cough and fever symptoms were signs of a common flu, and a visit to the doctor did not suggest otherwise. But his symptoms were those of the Epstein-Barr virus, which triggered a rare immune disorder known as hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis.

Mr Naden, who was due to graduate in May next year, was also later diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma, a rare type of cancer, three weeks after he was hospitalised. He died last Saturday afternoon, just 2½ months after he first fell ill, and around an hour after he had surgery to relieve the pressure in his brain.

Speaking to The Straits Times at his son's wake yesterday, Mr Benjamin Naden, 52, said scans and tests conducted when his son was admitted to hospital in July found that the organs, including the liver and kidneys, were deteriorating and there was water in the lungs. But his son, who coached young children at the aquatic club where he learnt to swim, remained resolute and "felt he would be able to fight it", he added.

While he looked to be recovering initially, with his organ functions stabilising and blood test results improving, Mr Naden had a relapse shortly after. This time, the signs were not as positive: His brain and heart were weakening, said his father, who works in infrastructure and solutions at Dell.

Last Saturday, after Mr Naden suffered a seizure and bleeding in his brain, his father posted on social media with a public call for blood donation to the national blood bank. His father said: "(Calling for blood donation) was not just for my son, it's also for the general public."

The family of four - including the couple's daughter Bernadette, 21 - was close-knit. Father and son went on several diving trips together, with their last in June 2017 to Lembeh, Indonesia. The family planned to visit Osaka around Christmas, as it was "on his bucket list". "I guess now, we owe him a trip," said his father.

He said the family intends to donate the money collected at the wake to a charity in his son's name. The family declined to reveal the sum collected over the two days, but said some 550 people have attended the wake at St Joseph's Church in Upper Bukit Timah Road. The cremation will take place today at Mandai Crematorium.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2019, with the headline 'Swimmer, 23, dies after virus triggers rare immune disorder'. Print Edition | Subscribe