[I have no doubt my father will fight his disease for as long as he thinks he can contribute to Singapore.]

 The Sunday Times
6 Nov 2011
By Lee Wei Ling

In my last article in this space, ‘Living a life with no regrets’, I wrote about my father’s deteriorating health due to my mother’s illness and subsequent demise.

I wrote truthfully and frankly, for that has been my ‘style’ in both writing and speech for as long as I can remember.

My father had read the draft as well as the published version of the article, and had e-mailed me to say, in his usual understated way, ‘reads well’.

The following week, when I showed him the positive feedback from two readers on the article, he paused for a moment, then said: ‘Let the readers know I have sensory peripheral neuropathy.’
Lee Kuan Yew
In my father’s case, sensory peripheral neuropathy has caused the conduction of sensation from his legs to his spinal cord to be impaired. This makes his walking unsteady, as many Singaporeans have already noticed.

I was there when the American television journalist Charlie Rose engaged my father in a dialogue in Istanbul, Turkey, recently.

I was also there when he delivered a speech at Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC before receiving the Lincoln Medal.

There was also a dinner hosted by Mr Fred Malek, a prominent member of the Republican Party, as well as dinner and lunch in Kent, a small town in Connecticut where Dr Henry Kissinger has his weekend home. The guests at these functions were all influential, with some of them having driven hours to see my father.

My father was in top form at all the events. He was asked for his opinion on many issues, and he did not get as many opportunities to ask questions of his interlocutors.

On the afternoon of our departure from Kent to catch the Singapore Airlines flight back to Singapore from Newark Airport, I watched Dr Kissinger and my father walk out together along the passageway to the door.

I remembered how in October 2009, I had noticed my father’s broad-based unsteady gait compared with Dr Kissinger’s steady gait, despite the fact that Dr Kissinger does not exercise with the same regularity as my father does.

Just a month before that, in September, my father had had no difficulty walking on the cobblestones around St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.

The deterioration within the space of a month was worrying.

I did a few simple neurological tests and decided the nerves to his legs were not working as they should. More sophisticated testing at the National Neuroscience Institute in Singapore confirmed my observation and conclusion.

I had a similar but milder attack in 2005. That was why when I was hiking in New Hampshire and subsequently in New Zealand I had a serious accident near the Punakaiki Rocks. I knew the long-term outcome of my disease and decided to get in as much hiking as I could before I was no longer able to hike. To compensate for my sensory peripheral neuropathy, I trained hard to improve my balance using a Swiss ball, as well as doing step aerobics for two hours holding a 4kg dumbbell in one hand. I purposely held the dumbbell alternately with my right and left hands so as to make it difficult for me to balance. This training helped me improve my balance.

But my father was 86 years old when we first noticed his peripheral neuropathy. He was obviously not able to do the strenuous exercises I did. His day-to-day condition now fluctuates. On some days he is fairly steady and on other days his balance is poor.

The problem is limited to the sensory nerves outside his central nervous system. His brain and muscles are working normally.

But being deprived of sensation from his legs means he finds it a challenge to balance. Thus his unsteady walk.

My father and I are temperamentally similar. In addition, fate has inflicted on us the same uncommon disease.

He will fight it with all the energy he can muster.

Already, he has started to practise walking. We have bought a treadmill for him to use at home. He does so three times a day, unfailingly, with his customary discipline.

I have no doubt my father will fight his disease for as long as he thinks he can contribute to Singapore.

I think with medication and simple precaution, he can continue to be of service to his country and the world.

He is that rare person, someone who will look at the facts carefully, and express his opinions regardless of what others might say.

He will say and write what is truthful, no matter how politically incorrect he may be viewed by others.

The following passage from Rudyard Kipling’s poem, If, represents accurately what my father will, and can, do:

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’…

The writer is director of the National Neuroscience Institute.
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