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[back] Staying on top Anthony Thanasayan (The Star) - 15 May 2003
Soh Kim Seng was in his mid-50s when the ex-senior executive engineer who lives in Klang, Selangor, was confronted with his worst nightmare.

He was confirmed a sufferer of Parkinson's disease (PD) - a condition of the nervous system that progresses over time, causing weakness of the muscles and trembling of the limbs.

In an e-mail interview with Wheel Power recently, Soh revealed that incipient signs of his ailment had already showed themselves a decade earlier.

Symptoms that he experienced - and still suffer today - ranged from painful stiffness and stress on his backbone and the inability to stand up for long periods of time, to less subtle tell-tale signs such as the inability to write legibly, as well as the occasional incapacity to keep a conversation going for long.

The now retired executive director, who turns 61 this July, is now able to leave aside his crutches and walk without support, thanks to two brain surgeries that were performed in China in 1999 and 2001 to help Soh become more independent.

"The revelation of Parkinson's initially left me depressed, scared and extremely grumpy," says Soh, who hails from Muar, Johor.

"It was particularly hard for me to accept, as ever since I can remember, I've always been independent and rarely troubled anyone to do anything for me," he explains. "But PD changed all that."

"I suddenly found myself caught in a very unpleasant and compromising situation where, during the initial stages of my discovering about the disease, I could hardly do a thing without someone coming forward to help me."

"This indignity of dependence on others made me extremely miserable about myself and life, so much so that others around me were also beginning to become affected by my negative vibes."

But as much as life had slowly become excruciatingly difficult for the father of three grown-up children, all of whom are studying in universities abroad, Soh also fought back, and hard!

He came to the realisation that true change could only come about through a personal transformation of his own attitude towards his disabled state and how he could best cope with his new situation.

The breakthrough in his personal struggle finally shifted - thanks largely to the unyielding support and companionship of his wife and some very close friends.

"One dear friend, Lee Thiam Min, for example, actually left everything he was doing and took leave from work just to accompany me to China for my surgeries," he points out.

"Irene Sim, my personal assistant for 12 years before I retired in December, 1998, still helps me out in household errands such as paying my utility bills, renewing road taxes, and maintaining constant checks of my well-being through the phone, especially when I'm home alone.

"Then there's Tan Tiong Meng who comes to my rescue as 'the family driver' every time we require his services or technical help for my computer."

"As for my wife, she's truly by far the greatest inspiration of my life," Soh enthuses proudly about his other half, Lee Han Peng.

The 56-year-old Lee officially retired from secondary school teaching last year.

"Lee Han always impressed upon me to be tough and never falter in the face of adversity," says Soh.

Despite the strong prognosis of PD, Soh writes that his wife remains the pillar of his battle with PD, constantly reminding him "of the importance of taking control and getting on with life".

Her faith in his ability led to the defining point of his life when Soh "made a 180-degree about-turn" in his thinking and attitude towards his disability.

"Today, I just regard PD as really a pest which needs to be ignored as I get about my daily life as normally as possible," he says.

"When I wake up each morning, I tell myself it's the beginning of another happy day, and maintain my daily outlook that way."

"Even when I am in pain or feeling particularly bad, I don't let that get me down with the hope that the next day will be a better one for me." Soh keeps himself busy every day both physically and mentally by e-mailing friends and surfing the Net in search of new ways to tackle the disease.

He says: "Sometimes I design greeting cards on my computer; at other times, I compose silly poems, like this one, entitled, My Pet. "

My pet is a white tomcat
Who prowled the neighbourhood with his act
Fought his rivals each night more with noise than muscle
"Got to do something about him," said my neighbour's uncle
It was thus arranged to lose both his male glory
At the vet's surgery
Now he sleeps days and nights
Lost all his interest in the pretty sights.

"When I'm not writing I attend to my garden or bake a cake, often trying out my own little creations, which seem to end up frequently on the lawn for the dogs or crows."

"Parkinson's doesn't scare me anymore," says Soh defiantly.

"The trick is to stay on top of the disease by being as active as I can be until a cure comes about, which may be just around the corner."

Soh and Lee, who are Buddhists, are spending Wesak Day today in prayer at home. Today is also the 43rd anniversary of Soh's grandfather's demise and the couple will be observing the traditional Chinese custom of prayers and offerings to him.

For more information on PD, you can call the Malaysian Parkinson's Disease Association (03-2096 2246).