Melissa Pang – Straits Times
Singapore. For most of his life, Indonesian Lauw Tjoan Eng faced rejection from people afraid of his looks.
But he got a break when a photo essay in the Jakarta Globe on his plight spurred others to lend assistance, including three Singaporean doctors who have helped the 50-year-old regain his sight in an afflicted eye.
Lauw suffers from a rare genetic condition known as neurofibromatosis, or Von Recklinghausen’s disease. There is no cure for the non-contagious illness, which results in tumors forming on the nerves or under the skin.
The unemployed bachelor, who lives in Jakarta, has tumors of varying sizes covering his body — from the head right down to his feet.
“People are scared of me. They don’t make any nasty comments. Maybe because they are afraid of retribution,” he said.
For the last 15 years, he had lumps that grew bigger and bigger within the tissue of his eyelid, causing it to droop down to his nose, covering his right eye.
Last Wednesday, he finally regained its use after surgery by plastic surgeon Leslie Quek. It involved removing the growths obstructing his eye and eyelid.
Eye specialist Lee Hung Ming, who is treating Lauw for cataracts and glaucoma, and anaesthetist Kong Chee Seng were also part of the team. The three are not charging him for their services. Gleneagles Hospital is also waiving its charges.
“He had a problem and comes from a disadvantaged background. Since I’m in a position to help, I thought, okay. If I was in his position, I would like for someone to offer to help me,” Quek said.
A photo essay on Lauw was published in the Jakarta Globe earlier this year. In the report, he had expressed a desire to visit Singapore, in particular Universal Studios.
After his plight came to light, an anonymous donor and volunteer group Count Me In paid for a trip here. The Indonesia-based group also made arrangements with doctors here for treatment.
Lauw visited Universal Studios a day before the surgery. “I’m very happy I got a chance to come here. I met and took a picture with ‘Marilyn Monroe’. She is very pretty,” he said.
Now that he has fulfilled his dream of visiting Singapore, he hopes to one day meet his favorite TV host, Yuanita Christiani.
“But who knows? She might be afraid to see me,” said Mr Lauw, who is resigned to a life of loneliness. In his younger days, his parents would console him by telling him that appearances did not matter for men and that as long as one could make money, one could find a wife. But his condition has hindered him from finding work.
“No money, no love,” he said.
The eldest of five siblings, he lives alone. One brother gives him Rp 400,000 ($43) every month to make ends meet while another gives money occasionally. The rest do not maintain contact.
He is happy when talking about his two friends, both female. But he maintains that he has “no feelings or desire” towards women as it is “just not possible.”
He accepts his condition, though at times, he feels that life has been unfair to him. “But I can only pray for a miracle to happen. If God blesses you, you never know what will come.”
Reprinted courtesy of Straits Times