Rare lung disease spurred S’porean, 27, to do more in life

From barely breathing to bearing hope.

Guan Zhen Tan | Sponsored | January 16, 2019, 06:58 PM

Ajay has a powerful voice. He’s eloquent, well-spoken, which explains his involvement with emceeing for events and poetry slams.

He works as a manager of operations with SMRT on the Bukit Panjang LRT, and volunteers for the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS).

With that much on his plate, it's hard to believe that he suffers from a rare lung disease, Diffuse Pulmonary Lymphangiomatosis (DPL), which he was diagnosed with at the tender age of 16.

Weighing him down

His condition saw him having to drain fluid from his lungs that was steadily building up. Once, a staggering eight kilograms of liquid was taken out of him.

In spite of the traumatic event, Ajay is able to joke that it was “the best weight loss programme”, a candid appreciation of his condition.

Of course, the competitive runner in school was not without his anxieties then:

“Having a condition like this at a young age created a lot of uncertainty and questions. I had been planning years into the future, laying out the roadmaps of my life.

But suddenly it was as if someone said, ‘No, all that is not going to happen anymore.’”


Having to let go of his dreams of becoming a commando even as an IPPT Silver holder, it was hard. But there were bigger concerns at hand, even as his condition stabilised.

His lung capacity has since dropped to 30 percent of its original level. The very real possibility of it worsening heightened Ajay’s drive to make the best use of his time:

“... I kept thinking, ‘Is it going to stay at 30 percent? Will it get better or worse?’ I don’t know when the next scare is going to come. So how do I make the most of the time I have now?"

A new pathway

The debilitating condition became a motivating factor. Ajay actively sought different opportunities to try new things, to maximise whatever time he had.

After discovering the Singapore Poetry Slam in 2016, he found his calling in organising and emceeing poetry slams.

"With poetry, you catch a glimpse of the emotions that underpin these arguments. Even if the audience doesn't relate to the arguments, they may relate to the emotions the poet felt. And that forms a stepping stone to empathy and perhaps change.”

View this post on Instagram

& it’s started #singaporeporepoetryslam #wordforwardsg #writerscentresg #instagram #poetry #openmic #spokenword

A post shared by writerscentresingapore (@writerscentresingapore) on

Volunteering at MINDS, too, inspired him greatly.

Seemingly mundane moments such as giving Ajay time to catch his breath during a dance session taught him to live in the moment.

"I learned that for my beneficiaries, it’s not about how ‘well’ or quickly a task is finished but, how much they enjoy the process.”

View this post on Instagram

Magic poetry slam about to start soon & that’s Ajay ready to welcome you at #bluejazzcafesg #singaporepoetryslam #instagram #sginstagram #sginsta #writerscentresg #wordforwardsg #instawriters #poetryslam #openmic #instagram

A post shared by writerscentresingapore (@writerscentresingapore) on

Somehow, all these events seem to signal that the setbacks he faced in life were simply stepping stones to something better.

His advice for us?

“Life will throw you curveballs. Your plans may fail by no fault of your own… But I think it's so important no matter where you find yourself to try and make the best of it. Focus less on the result and more on the process.”

“Sometimes, with a full-time job you have a safety net… But I urge you to try. Take your time and seek out new opportunities. Colour outside the lines, focusing on the experience and not the result.”


View this post on Instagram

#singaporepoetryslam #michaeltohphotography #blujazcafe #singaporepoetry

A post shared by Michael Toh (@michael_jc_toh) on

You can learn more about his story here, and hear from more millennials just like him about how they’ve made a difference with their passion and dreams.

This article is brought to you by e2i, a non-profit organisation that advocates for taking ownership of one's career.

Top image via michael_jc_toh's Instagram post