“I make the best of any situation…I just want to be treated normally…”
Alex Lim Qi Mao
He did everything that normal kids did
Alex Lim Qi Mao was born with Spina Bifida. He was the first physically disabled student at his primary school and appreciated that a lift was installed for him. He noted that more handicapped friendly changes had since been made in the system for disabled students.
But he did not like to be treated differently. He felt good when he was treated as a normal student and appreciated that no special privilege was extended to him. This happened in secondary school where he was told that no special arrangement would be made for him even though classrooms were on the 4th floor too. It took him a longer time to move around and double the time required to get to and from the canteen. The challenges trained him to be mentally resilient, more independent and to plan ahead. Like any other student, he also learnt to take public transport to and from school by Primary 3 or 4. Occasionally, he lost his way but he learnt from these experiences.
Competing with able-bodied shooters
Encouraged by his orthopedic therapist, Alex picked up archery in 2015. From shooting recreationally, he soon played competitively and now represents Singapore as a parashooter. But he also plays in local competitions against able bodied shooters in the seated class, with no special privileges or adjustments catered for him.
He was frustrated initially as he was not doing well. Spurred by his caregiver grandmother, he pushed himself very hard at his overseas training course sponsored by the Sports Disabled Council. He told himself that if he did not try hard enough, he would not learn anything and the trip would have been a waste of time and funds. His efforts paid off and he got into pretty good shape.
Archery has taught Alex focus and mental strength. Although there is a time limit imposed each time he had to shoot, he knew that he had to be deliberate, not be distracted by the presence of spectators, and follow through the process to achieve success.
Ready to face new challenges
One of the greatest physical challenges Alex faces is his inability to walk great distances. He tires easily and his upper body has to carry his full weight to compensate for the lack of activation of his leg muscles. But ever the determined person, who went on study tours during his ITE days even to places that required extended walking, he looks forward to more and new challenges.
Now into his 2nd year at NAFA for a diploma in advertising, Alex is excited at the prospect of being thrown into tough assignments to prepare him for the fast paced and demanding advertising world. He hopes to focus on product campaigns to help his clients to sell their messages. Big ideas, original and out-of-the-box ones. He is as ready for this as any other person.
DISCOVER HIS ACHIEVEMENTS HIS CONDITION
The perfect embodiment of determination and perseverance
Through archery, Alex has cultivated the ability to focus and developed mental toughness. He knows that there are no short cuts in life and that he must not be easily distracted if he were to achieve success.
READ MORE about the para-archer who does not bow down to adversities
Spina Bifida (latin for “split or open spine”) is a birth defect called a neural tube defect1. It occurs when the bones of the spine (vertebrae) do not form properly around part of the baby's spinal cord. The spinal cord and the nerves that branch out of it may therefore be damaged.
Milder forms of Spina Bifida do not cause disability or manifest symptoms but more serious forms cause partial or complete paralysis, bladder and bowel dysfunction and other conditions such as fits, poor feeding and vomiting, etc.
Many people with the condition will have normal intelligence but some will have learning difficulties such as a short attention span, poor reading or organizational skills, etc. Most live active, productive and full lives especially with encouragement and support from loved ones.
The mildest form of Spina Bifida results in a small separation or gap in one or more of the vertebrae of the spine. Most children with this do not show signs or symptoms and experience no neurological problems because the spinal nerves are usually not affected. Visible indications of mild Spina Bifida can sometimes be seen on the newborn's skin above the spinal defect, including:
- An abnormal tuft of hair
- A collection of fat
- A small dimple or birthmark
In its more serious form, the baby's spinal canal remains open along several vertebrae in the lower or middle back. Both the membranes and the spinal cord protrude at birth because of this opening thus forming a sac on the baby's back. In some cases, skin covers the sac but when tissues and nerves are exposed, the baby is prone to life-threatening infections. Another risk is the accumulation of fluid in the baby’s brain, enlarging the head and sometimes causing brain damage. Neurological impairment is common, including:
- Muscle weakness of the legs, sometimes involving paralysis
- Bowel and bladder problems
- Seizures, especially if the child requires a shunt to prevent accumulation of fluid in the brain
- Orthopedic problems — such as deformed feet, uneven hips and a curved spine (scoliosis)
1The neural tube is the embryonic structure that eventually develops into the baby's brain and spinal cord and the tissues that enclose them. Causes
Scientists suspect multiple possible factors may play a role that cause Spina Bifida: genetic, nutritional and environmental factors. Research studies indicate that insufficient intake of folic acid (Vit B9) in the mother's diet is a key factor causing Spina Bifida and other neural tube defects.Detection/Treatment
A high percentage of cases of Spina Bifida can be detected with an ultrasound scan in the early stages of pregnancy. There are other tests used to diagnose the condition, e.g., specific maternal blood tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.
Treatment depends on the severity of the condition. Mild forms usually do not require treatment. More serious forms require surgery shortly after the baby’s birth to put the membranes back in place and close up the opening in the vertebrae to minimize the risk of infection and may also protect the spinal cord from additional trauma. Ongoing after surgery care is required as paralysis, bladder and bowel problems often remain.