S'porean with brittle-bone disease: I think God has been kind to me

Under our "Inspiring People" monthly column, we highlight the incredible journey of one person who has overcome tremendous odds to achieve personal success. This column celebrates the triumph of the human spirit and we hope it will inspire you to reach for your dreams, too. This month, we bring you Jeremy Lim, whose fragile condition has not stopped him from actively pursuing his dreams.

Each time one of his bones breaks, it's like a sword has pierced his body.

“The pain is as excruciating as it is traumatic,” describes 21-year-old Jeremy Lim, who was born with brittle-bone disease.

Yet when he was only 12-years-old, Lim held back his tears and told his mother that he was not in pain after breaking his arm and leg from a fall.

His mother, Wong Liang Ming, recalled, “In the car, he was the one comforting me, saying, ‘Don’t cry, I’m okay’."

“And as I carried him into the house, with the help of my husband, there he was holding back tears just so I won’t feel bad. And he told dad that it’s not mummy’s fault. There he is in pain and protecting me. … At that point, I have the highest respect for my son,” she said.

Lim’s reaction perhaps stems from a philosophy he holds close to his heart, that “nothing can change what happens to you but you can change how you react to an incident”.

“From an early age, my parents taught me to look at the bright side of life because if you look on the bright side, there will not be a dark shadow in sight,” Lim told Yahoo! Singapore in an hour-long interview.

Lim was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also known as brittle-bone disease which affects one in some 20,000 births. As a child, his bones would break with a “pop” sound every other week as he rolled over in his sleep or tried to open a box of toys on his own.

His bones are sturdier now thanks to an experimental drug he has been taking the last 13 years to increase bone density. The last time he broke a bone – his collarbone – was a few years ago.

Still, Lim’s delicate condition has not stopped him from reaching out to help the less fortunate or from steadfastly pursuing his dreams.

‘Only natural to help other people’

If he looks familiar to some, Lim was a young ambassador for the National Kidney Foundation’s children’s medical fund from 2001 – 2005. His stint ended after malpractices by former NKF chief executive T T Durai were uncovered.

As ambassador, Lim would collect cheques, give speeches, visit beneficiaries’ homes to cheer them up and check on their health.

When he was in Temasek Junior College, Lim participated in school initiatives to help the needy. He went with other students to collect newspapers and recyclable material from households to raise money for charity. If there was no lift at a particular flat, Lim, wheel-chair bound, would stay behind to look after the collected material, he recalled.

He would also visit old folks’ homes and talk to residents to cheer them up.

His mother recalls that his charitable nature was apparent from his younger days. In primary three, Lim would take the school-issued pledge card and enthusiastically ask his father’s friends to donate to charity.

“With my condition, I want to focus on what I can do, focus on making a positive difference in the lives of the less fortunate... I think God has been kind to me, he’s given me a lot of blessings. It’s only natural for me to help other people,” said Lim.

He listed several people who have helped shaped his life.

There was his then-principal of Pei Chun Public School Chen Keng Juan who offered him a place to study when many other schools rejected him because of his health condition. “Some even thought I was mentally ill,” said Lim.

Then in Temasek Junior College, principal Loke-Yeo Teck Yong had ramps retrofitted and a lift built in the school in preparation for Lim’s attendance there. During the orientation games, organisers made him a station master when he could not participate in the games.

“It’s not about the hardware, it’s about the heartware,” said Lim. “It made me feel very included.”

“I don’t think I could be where I am today without these people. There’s so many people in my life whom I’ve had the honour of meeting. They’ve touched my life, they’ve wanted me to succeed and helped me to achieve my goals,” he stated.

Pursing his passions

This year, Lim fulfilled one of his dreams to be a published author. He wrote and published his autobiography titled “Beyond Bone Breaking”, where he shared life experiences that he hopes will inspire readers.

The book contains a foreword by former President S R Nathan, whom Lim first met when he was 12. The pair have kept in touch through the years.

Other than writing, Lim counts Japanese animation as among his passions. He has shelves of Japanese anime figures at home.

The second year student at the National University of Singapore is now deciding between majoring in Japanese studies or new media communications.

He once had dreams of becoming a genetic engineer but realised chemistry was “too abstract” for him. He is considering writing, animation or even opening a toy shop selling Japanese toys as career options.

No matter what choice he makes, he has already shown many people the path to touching people’s hearts.

“Jeremy has made a difference in our lives,” said Lim’s mother, Wong. “People say society is less gracious (now). Maybe they are put here to remind us we must be humble and count our blessings.”