When 37-year-old Desmond Tan held his baby boy in his arms for the first time, he envisioned years of fun outdoor activities and roughhousing ahead.
Little did the first-time dad know that Ee Han may never be able to walk unassisted, much less dribble a ball or ride a bicycle.
At three days old, he was found to have severe hearing loss in both ears after failing a routine hearing test.
But it wasn’t until he was three months old that his parents began suspecting that something was amiss.
“His neck was soft and he still could not support his head, and that was when we decide to take him to the hospital for further checks,” says Desmond, an IT professional.
The doctors dropped a bombshell: their little one had cerebral palsy.
It is a permanent condition that affects muscle control and body movements due to a brain injury or damage that occurs when the brain is developing before, during or after birth.
The type of cerebral palsy Ee Han suffers from has left him unable to control his arms and legs from birth.
The doctors could not offer any explanation for the condition; he had appeared healthy during pregnancy scans and at birth.
“My wife felt as if her world had come to an end. I was looking forward to sharing my love of sporting activities with my son. When the paediatrician said that Ee Han will never be able to engage in any sports, I was devastated,” Desmond says.
Their only child’s inability to enjoy sports is just one of many obstacles he would face.
Over the next few years, Ee Han struggled to hit basic developmental milestones that other parents take for granted, such as sitting up, crawling, drinking from a straw, or clapping.
Ee Han managed to sit on his own and crawl, using his arms, only at the age of two years. His severe hearing loss further added to his list of everyday challenges.
Particularly heartbreaking to his parents was his inability to interact with them or control his emotions.
“He would often stare blankly into space. He would also swing from laughter to cries, and back, in seconds,” shares Desmond.
In 2014, the Tans found a glimmer of hope when they noticed another child with cerebral palsy, who was in the same early intervention programme as Ee Han, began showing marked improvement after undergoing a new treatment.
In Singapore, about 10 children with cerebral palsy have been treated with their own umbilical cord blood, according to consultant neurosurgeon Keith Goh of International Neuro Associates.
They each received an infusion of their cord blood stored at birth.
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