At 16, many teenagers are picky about what they eat. Not Samuel Lim Hong Xiang – he has never tasted food before.
He eats through a gastrostomy tube inserted through the abdomen, breathes through a tracheostomy tube inserted through the neck into his windpipe, and barely speaks due to damaged vocal chords.
Yet when asked if he feels any different from his peers, Samuel writes on his iPad: “I see myself as another peer to my peers, just quieter.”
Yesterday, the former Yuan Ching Secondary School (YCSS) student found out that he scored an L1R5 of nine points in his O levels.
His mother, Tan Poh Ling, 44, beamed when asked about his results. “He did well, he’s happy with his results. In the recent years, Samuel improved not just academically, but also in other ways.
“I was very pleased when he agreed to join other community activities outside of school. That kind of commitment and time spent is commendable,” she said.
Samuel even played the piano to raise funds during the Beautiful Mind Charity in 2014.
Poh Ling is proud of her son partly because of how far he has come since he was attacked in 1999. He was then three months old and a maid had poured sulphuric acid down his throat out of jealousy of another maid. The attack severely damaged his tongue, throat and vocal chords. Nobody expected him to live, but he survived. He would never be able to eat through his mouth again.
Poh Ling said in an earlier press interview that he has never complained or asked to eat. Samuel said then: “I just find food disgusting.”
He still struggles with speech today. His father, Lim Boon Keong, 44, says: “We encourage him to use his vocal chords from time to time, but he rarely tries to speak in public.”
Samuel relies on writing and typing on gadgets to communicate. During the interview with The New Paper, he communicated through body language and typing on an iPad.
Despite having to fight back tears when strangers ask about her eldest son’s condition – she has another son, 13, and daughter, 10 – Poh Ling says she and her husband never believed in keeping Samuel at home. “We wanted him to grow up like a normal child.”
LOVING THE STAGE
When asked if he felt self-conscious or inferior when growing up, Samuel simply looks at his mother, before shaking his head with a smile.
The 16-year-old’s confidence today is built up from his string of public music performances. At seven, he picked up piano. “Mum didn’t have a chance to learn piano when she was young, so she asked me if I wanted to try it out,” he writes.
His first public performance came two years later, as a beneficiary of Club Rainbow’s Talent Development Fund. “I loved (being on) stage since then,” writes Samuel, who is also adept at guzheng, a Chinese zither. Music has become a way to express his emotions.
“To me, music has given me another identity and a channel to express myself more confidently and freely. I view music as a passion,” he writes.
Poh Ling reveals greater intentions behind asking Samuel to pick up music. “(My husband and I) had suggested he pick up music partly because we wanted him to be able to enjoy as a normal person and to stand on his own feet next time even if he can’t get a proper job,” she says.
Seeing him turn into a fairly independent boy in school has provided much relief and comfort to the couple. His Chinese language teacher, Tan Mui Gek, 43, says he fits in well with his class. “His peers treat him like a normal, healthy person. He would always take the initiative to ask questions,” she says.
Agreeing, his English language teacher, Christine Lee, 31, says: “Because of what happened to him, students actually wanted to get to know him better.”