Lee Weiling, neurologist and the daughter of the late Lee Kuan Yew, on Saturday (8 August) revealed that she has been diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare neurodegenerative disorder that shares similar symptoms with Parkinson’s disease.
In a Facebook post yesterday, Dr Lee wrote that progressive supranuclear palsy “slows physical movements, impairs fast eye movements and balance, resulting in a tendency to fall”.
“This is followed by difficulty swallowing, choking aspiration, pneumonia and death – for the fortunate,” she added.
There is also a likelihood of dementia “with prominent behavioural changes such as disinhibition and impulsivity” as the disease worsens, said Dr Lee.
Upon learning of her condition, Dr Lee said: “My immediate reaction to the news was “忍”(ren), or endure in Chinese, of which the traditional character has a knife above a heart. I have been practicing “忍” since I was in Chinese school, recognising that life has many unpleasant, unavoidable situations.”
“It would be nice if this entire episode turns out to be a nightmare and that I will wake up. But it is getting increasingly real and inescapable every day.
“My movements are slow and hesitant and I have difficulty getting up from my futon (yes, I upgraded from sleeping on two exercise mats, one on top of the other, to a comfortable futon on top of the exercise mats),” she lamented, adding that the futon was what her brother Lee Hsien Yang’s children would use when they had friends sleep over.
“It gives more cushioning than just exercise mats and the surface is made of woven bamboo strips, making it cool and easy to slide on,” she wrote.
‘I have had it good for too long’: Dr Lee Weiling
Recalling her humble upbringing, as well as her achievements and setbacks in her academic and professional lives, Dr Lee said: “The next question is “Why me?” but I did not ask it because the obvious answer was “Why not?”.
“I have had it good for too long,” she said.
“My father was Prime Minister of Singapore and we could have stayed in a huge bungalow in the Istana grounds. But he did not want us growing up with the wrong idea of our importance and entitlement. He did not like the idea that if we threw a ball, a butler would run to get it. So we lived in our old pre-war home at Oxley Road,” said Dr Lee.
“We played with the butler’s children as equals and watched their little television set in their sitting room as their equals. This relationship was maintained through the years and even now, if we happen to cross paths, we greet each other as childhood friends and on first name basis.
“Over the years I have seen Flora and Stella when their children were admitted to the hospital, usually for asthmatic attacks. John and Aloysius, I have not seen for a long time,” added Dr Lee.
While she fared well in school “both academically and socially”, having done “well enough to earn a President’s scholarship” and admission to medical school, Dr Lee recalled her “first taste of failure” when she did not pass the MRCP (Membership of the Royal Colleges of Physicians) examinations.
“A day after the results were announced, almost all Singapore doctors knew I failed and cheered. That was an important lesson in resilience. I took the exams again and passed it this time,” said Dr Lee.
Later on, she went to subspecialise in paediatric neurology and was awarded a Health Ministry scholarship for three years, training at Massachusetts General Hospital a famous hospital in Boston.
“On my return, I served my 13-year bond. Unfortunately, I was not really wanted at the paediatric department and was transferred to the neurology department at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. I was the only paediatric neurologist amongst a group of adultneurologists,” said Dr Lee.
She delved into paediatric epilepsy and “became competent as a paediatric and adult epileptologist”, following which she was awarded another Ministry of Health scholarship.
Dr Lee spent a year treating children at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada. She also spent several months at the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic.
“All in all, I enjoyed my years as a neurologist and epileptologist,” she said.
Dr Lee Weiling previously found to have psychogenic acute retention of urine
Previously in May, Dr Lee disclosed that she had been suffering from acute retention of urine (ARU) for over 13 years.
“It may be the most common urologic emergency but it is a very rare problem in women as the distance between bladder outlet and the outside of the body is short with no chance of obstruction in between,” she wrote in a Facebook post on 27 May.
Dr Lee revealed that she was treated at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) by then-head of urology Christopher Cheng, who conducted a urodynamic study on her and made his diagnosis based on the absence of bladder contraction.
“Often, in the absence of biological evidence of an underlying disease, doctors assume that the illness must have a psychological cause, — even if the patient shows no signs of being under stress or of having a psychological or psychiatric disorder.
“I admit to being psychologically unusual but not abnormal. The last thing I would want to do is draw attention to myself by being unable to pee.
“It was not until my friend, who is a neurosurgeon, examined the muscle power of my lower limbs that it became apparent,” she wrote.
Her doctor, said Dr Lee, had discovered “a pattern of weaknesses suggesting tethered cord, a condition in which the spinal cord is being stretched, causing unexplained back or leg pain and sometimes urinary problems”.
“Bad luck hits everyone randomly. I have had more than my fair share of good luck and will not allow this little bad luck to hold me back,” she wrote.