From foe to full-time caregiver

After a car crash left a 24-year-old paralysed, his stepfather stepped up to become his full-time caregiver

Mr Kua & Mr Lim 1
Mr Kua Sim Choon has been a full-time caregiver to his stepson, Mr Lim Joo Phiau, for the past two decades

Ms Lim Joo Teng vividly recalls the day her life took a dramatic turn. Two decades ago, her father, with whom she had been living with since her parents’ divorce, received a call from their estranged mother notifying them that her brother, Joo Phiau, was in critical condition in the hospital after a tragic car crash.

What ensued were numerous exhausting days and tearful, sleepless nights. “I was just 18, and my brother was 24 when he had that car accident. We had been separated since our parents’ divorce when we were very young. I stayed with our father, and he, with our mother, but we reunited after his car accident,” recalled Ms Lim.

“In the past, life was carefree, and I had no concerns. Everything changed after my brother’s accident. My father, who had been working as a cook, quit his job. The three of us spent months in and out of the hospital while my brother remained in critical condition. That was the most challenging time of my life.”

The incident caused Joo Phiau to suffer a severe brain injury, leaving him paralysed from the neck down. As Joo Phiau’s medical bills snowballed, 18-year-old Ms Lim gave up her plans for higher education to work and provide for her family. Their stepfather, Mr Kua Sim Choon, also quit his job to become Joo Phiau’s full-time caregiver.

“Before my stepson’s accident, he used to give me a hard time because he disapproved of my relationship with his mother (now my wife). After the accident, it hurt to see my wife crying every day. I told her not to be that way and that I would help take care of him,” recounted Mr Kua. “Who would have thought that I would end up being his caregiver for the past 20 years? “

Mr Kua & Mr Lim 2
Mr Kua accompanying his stepson to do stretching exercises at the outdoor fitness zone in their neighbourhood

Endless battle for financial survival

Days turned into weeks, then months and years, as Ms Lim worked tirelessly to support her family. As Mr Kua’s health worsened in recent years, Ms Lim had to hire a helper to ease his caregiving load. Over time, she accumulated $14,000 in debts from multiple bank loans to cover daily and caregiving expenses.

Ms Lim said that had it not been for these loans, she would have ended it all. “I had no concept of savings because no matter how many hours I worked, it was never enough to support my family. I don’t know how I survived until today,” she shared.

For over a decade now, Ms Lim has been juggling two jobs as the family’s sole breadwinner. By day, the 38-year-old is a pallbearer, and in her spare time, she works as a ride-hailing driver.

Amid the cost-of-living crisis, spiralling food prices and interest rate hikes are wrecking their already-stretched family budget. To meet the higher expenses, Ms Lim has to spend longer hours behind the wheel.

Putting love into action

Since 2021, MWS has journeyed alongside Ms Lim to work towards a better financial future through MWS Family Development Programme (FDP), a debt clearance and savings matching scheme. For every $1 Ms Lim saves, MWS FDP matches it with $2.

“I’ve always lived paycheque to paycheque, but being on this programme has motivated me to save for the first time in my life,” said Ms Lim, who is on track to reach her savings goal in June 2024. “The funds will help pay off my bank loans more quickly, so I can start saving to give me and my family a better future.”

71-year-old Mr Kua, who was formerly on the programme, added: “MWS FDP has really helped me to save for family emergencies, and to buy food and diapers for my stepson.”

As part of the programme, a volunteer befriender is paired with the family to support them in managing their bills and finances.

Mr Kua recalled how Mr Steven Lee, his and Ms Lim’s volunteer befriender from Sengkang Methodist Church, went above and beyond.

“Once, our water heater broke down, but I couldn’t afford the repairs. Steven not only bought us a new water heater but also arranged for someone to fix it for us. If I mentioned we were running out of rice, he would buy some for us,” shared Mr Kua.

“He has been like a brother to me and I am extremely grateful to him. It is truly surprising because such generosity is rare, especially when he is not obligated to help us. I’m amazed.”

Mr Lee & Mr Kua & Mr Lim
Mr Steven Lee, a volunteer befriender with MWS Family Development Programme, visiting Mr Kua and Mr Lim

Mr Lee sees his actions as “an expression of God’s love”. At the same time, Mr Kua’s devotion to his stepson is an inspiration to Mr Lee. “I admire his unconditional love for his stepson. Even as a Christian, I am unsure if I could care for a paralysed person for 20 years,” he admitted. “I have read about parents’ selfless love for their children, but with Mr Kua, I have personally witnessed it.”

Support families in need to build their rainy day fund

For families like Ms Lim’s, clearing mounting debt and building a financial safety net can be a daunting challenge. The MWS Family Development Programme, a debt clearance and savings matching programme, is designed to help families escape the poverty trap and is funded entirely by donations. You can extend the love of Christ to our community and motivate a family with a matching gift today.

Scan the QR Code or visit mws.sg/mm-helpinghand23 to find out more.

By the Methodist Welfare Services (MWS) Communications Team. / Photos courtesy of MWS