She dropped out of the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), and less than two years ago was struggling to make ends meet when excruciating pain forced her into hospital – her kidneys had failed.
While recovering, Ms Wong Rui Jun realised she needed to study to better her life. In May, the 29-year-old will do just that, starting a diploma in commerce (business administration), thanks to how she encouraged other dialysis patients despite her predicament.
Recognising that spirit, the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) nominated her for a scholarship offered by Kaplan Singapore.
Ms Wong’s problems began in Primary 1 when she started getting frequent urinary tract infections (UTI). After two years, doctors discovered she had a neurogenic bladder, preventing her from urinating normally.
In Primary 5, an MRI found the cause behind her malfunctioning bladder – spina bifida, a birth defect where a foetus’ spine fails to grow properly. She underwent an eight-hour operation to correct it but, by then, her kidneys were badly scarred.
A year later, an ultrasound scan revealed her kidneys were only around 25 per cent functional.
“They described it like, ‘Although you are 12 years old… you have a pair of 60- to 70-year-old kidneys’,” said Ms Wong.
Doctors predicted she would need dialysis by 18, but life threw different challenges her way.
When she reached 18, she dropped out of the ITE partly due to poor health. About two years later, her parents divorced, and she and her two younger siblings moved in with her mother.
In 2009, her father’s firm went bust. From being in a “very well to do” family, she had to take on several jobs to make ends meet, including as a club manager and getai singer.
Though her kidneys were still holding out, she was far from healthy. But her family’s situation meant seeking medical treatment “was the last thing on my mind”.
She recalled that if she had a fever or UTI, she would go to her family doctor to get antibiotics.
In March 2015, her kidneys failed, stabbing her body with pain and requiring her to be hospitalised.
She received financial support from NKF and a new job as a part-time saleswoman. It was during this period that she realised she needed to upgrade herself through education.
Last October, NKF awarded Ms Wong its Smile and Encouragement Award, given to patients who encourage others to stay positive.
In the same period, Kaplan launched its Bright Future Scholarship for ITE graduates and O- and N-level students in adversity who wish to pursue further education. Kaplan contacted organisations such as NKF to recommend individuals, and NKF picked Ms Wong.
Last month, she won the scholarship worth about $6,000.
She is still in shock about how quickly everything progressed, and frequently said she is “very lucky”.
Her health is still not perfect, but she feels much better, and said she does not have much to complain about. “I’ve always believed your mindset has to be very positive for you to achieve what you want.”
Applications for the Bright Future Scholarship are open till Feb 8.
Kaplan 高等教育学院（新加坡）Kaplan Higher Education Academy (Singapore)