18-Year-Old Tammie Ong Remains Hopeful Despite Chronic Illnesses
If you’re someone who loves scrolling through TikTok, chances are you may have seen a few viral clips by Singaporean teenager Tammie Ong aka @tammieongg.
Like many others her age, Tammie is active on TikTok, creating vlogs that capture various moments in her life, from chilling at the beach to celebrating birthdays.
However, what sets her apart from her peers are two yellow tubes on her face, inserted into her nostrils.
These tubes certainly spark curiosity, and some might wonder if Tammie could be sick. They would be right as the 18-year-old has to live with several chronic illnesses.
Diagnosed with rare conditions such as gastrointestinal dysmotility, she cannot eat like a normal person and has to rely on the two tubes – connected to her stomach and intestines – to provide her with enough nutritional intake.
However, she isn’t going to let her circumstances keep her down.
Speaking to MS News over a video call on Google Meet after a recent hospital discharge, this brave and inspiring young woman looks back on her life. She tells us how she has risen above challenging circumstances.
Diagnosed with rare intestinal disease at 17
“It was a long journey,” Tammie recalls as she looks up to the ceiling as if engrossed in her thoughts.
Since Tammie was in primary school, signs of her illnesses started popping up. She remembers facing stomach problems, which led to her being “in and out of the hospital from Primary 4”.
It was in September last year when she suddenly experienced a severe headache, making her feel like her world was spinning. It was so bad that she couldn’t even walk and kept vomiting.
While she later recovered after staying in the hospital for over a week, the one thing that simply did not go away was the nausea she felt every time she took a bite of food. She kept throwing up everything she ate.
After undergoing multiple tests at two different hospitals, Tammie found out she had not one but four types of chronic illnesses.
One of them was superior mesenteric artery syndrome (SMAS), a rare condition that affects the small intestine, causing a partial or complete blockage of the duodenum.
In addition, Tammie was also diagnosed with gastrointestinal dysmotility, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), and small fibre polyneuropathy (SFN).
These conditions turned her life topsy-turvy. She would suffer from debilitating symptoms such as intense pain, nausea, and vomiting every day. Even strong intravenous (IV) medicine did not necessarily help alleviate the pain.
Tammie would also experience heart palpitations, fainting spells, dizziness, fatigue, and tingling numbness in various parts of her body, including her head, arms and legs.
All these symptoms sometimes made it difficult for her to move around as she never knew if she might pass out.
And then came the nasogastric feeding tubes. Inserted cleanly into both her nostrils, they are the only way she can consume food and oral nutrition supplements to stay healthy.
Lugging medical equipment to school & deferring her studies
Like any other teen who yearns to live a carefree life, Tammie immediately felt overwhelmed with mixed emotions after discovering her diagnoses.
On the one hand, she felt a sense of relief as she had finally gotten answers to what was causing her to fall sick after so many years.
But on the other hand, it was also a huge turning point for the Year 1 Singapore Polytechnic (SP) student, who had no choice but to defer her studies.
“It’s frustrating,” she sighs.
It’s not fun to have feeding tubes. I’m just a teenager trying to live my life to the fullest.
Even though she eventually returned to school, she had to do so while lugging heavy medical equipment around with her, including an IV pole, pump, and the milk from which she gets her nutritional intake.
“I feel bad because I can’t even join my friends for a simple meal now”, relates Tammie, who really misses chomping on a McDonald’s burger.
The once sporty teen could also no longer do the things she loved, such as playing badminton, boxing, ballet and dancing. She also had to stop attending her regular Modern Dance CCA sessions.
Even if she could, she had to be very careful for fear that she might pass out at any moment.
Getting used to people’s long stares
Going out and about became an alienating experience for Tammie as well. The tubes in her nostrils, being a new permanent feature on her visage, attracted unwanted attention.
She felt it the most whenever she removed her mask in public. She noticed how strangers would stare at her – for a very long time.
People will start looking (once I take off my mask). But I can’t really blame them, because how often do people see a girl like me with tubes attached to her nostrils, right?
But she wishes these stares would stop. “It’s kinda rude and annoying,” Tammie sighs.
Talking to herself & crying during challenging moments
Unfortunately, things took a tremendous turn in March this year, when Tammie again found herself in the hospital.
As her symptoms were out of control, she had to undergo more testing and treatment at the National University Hospital (NUH). And before she knew it, she had to stay there for three months.
I was in pain almost every day. I felt nauseous and kept vomiting.
Despite her TikTok feed emanating wholesome vibes, the journey was fraught with highs and lows. And when things got tough, crying was the only way she could process her feelings and move on — it was cathartic.
It probably stemmed from all the pent-up frustration accumulated from the beginning, when she had to get used to her feeding tubes and juggle between her treatment and studies.
But the thoughtful girl, who later revealed she liked talking to herself, would keep most of these negative emotions to herself. Even though she had a close-knit family and good friends, she didn’t want to burden them further with her troubles.
Talking to myself, figuring out the problem by myself, and crying… This is how I usually cope.
Documenting her battle against chronic illnesses on TikTok
Making TikTok videos when struggling with severe medical conditions may be unthinkable to some, but chronicling her life on social media was a source of strength for the 18-year-old.
Tammie admits that when she first started posting TikTok videos to document her journey in the hospital, she didn’t expect to be there for months.
She simply wanted to raise awareness of the rare chronic illnesses she had in the hope of helping those who may be in the same boat as her.
Little did she know that her carefree nature and optimism would catch the attention of thousands of people as many sympathised with her plight. At the time of writing, Tammie had already garnered over 87,000 followers and 2.8 million views.
“People started watching. I didn’t expect my Instagram or TikTok to blow up, but I guess people became more interested in my journey.”
When asked her thoughts about becoming TikTok-famous, Tammie humbly says her adversities probably brought a semblance of comfort to her viewers.
“I guess after seeing what has happened to me, their problems don’t seem as much (big) as mine.”
More than that, the young “influencer” also received many DMs and kind messages from strangers, young and old.
Every written word touched her deeply, as it gave her the strength to carry on.
Someone once told me that my illness and equipment don’t define me. That meant a lot. Also, the aunties and uncles are damn cute. They would send me lyrics to cheer me on.
From clips of her decorating her intravenous pole and setting up feeding tubes, to “Day in my life as a chronically ill teen” vlogs, followers get to see a glimpse of her life in NUH.
The young girl also started picking up new hobbies, including crocheting, which is now one of her favourite things to do.
Occasionally, she enjoyed preparing goodie bags and snack bins for the kids who shared the same paediatric ward as her during her stay.
Life in the hospital can feel mundane at times, but not for Tammie, who shares that she even formed close bonds with her nurses, including one named Clara.
“They were emotionally there for me, and they do most of the work, to be honest.”
Ultimately, through documenting her journey online, Tammie says that the main thing she hopes to do is to normalise her illnesses and let those in the same shoes know they are not alone.
“Be yourself, live your life, do what you love! Life goes on, so find something to do no matter where you are in life.”
Gaining more than she lost
Now that she’s freshly discharged, Tammie finds immense comfort in being at home again.
These days, her routine looks like this:
- taking medications after waking up
- disconnecting her feeds to wash before setting them up again every five hours
- engaging in hobbies she loves, like crocheting and watching movies.
And if you’re wondering whether she’s able to eat normally again, sadly, she can’t. She has to rely solely on her feeding tubes and peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) lines, which channel milk and total parental nutrition (TPN) straight into her stomach, intestines, and heart to keep her nourished.
Though it may seem dull, Tammie is contented for now as she feels she has gained more than she lost.
Her chronic illnesses have taught her that one can do so much more in life. It’s just a matter of having the right mindset.
“There’s no point in being unhappy. Yes, it’s terrifying to think about what would happen to me if things didn’t go well. But we should learn to deal with it head-on when the time comes.”
Her friends and family were also her strong pillars of support. They showered her with all the love and care she needed.
I realised a lot of things don’t matter, but health comes first. Without health, you can’t have anything else.
For the family-oriented girl, who’s the youngest in her family, she hopes to spend more time with her loved ones as much as she can.
Hoping to graduate & fulfil her dreams one day
Throughout the video call with Tammie, we can feel her radiating positive energy through the computer screen as she talks of her hopes and dreams, like visiting Disneyland and savouring a hearty McDonald’s meal.
We’re confident that it was her sweet demeanour that allowed her to captivate many Singaporeans on social media, as they would now spare a thought for her in their prayers — as seen in the comments.
So what does the future hold for Tammie now? Once she recovers, she plans to return to school to finish her studies as a Biomedical Science student.
“Whatever I want to do in the future, I know it will be in the healthcare sector,” Tammie shares, adding that she hopes to fulfil her ambition of being a paediatric oncologist.
In the meantime, her only wish is to recover swiftly and give back to the community as much as possible. If you would like to support her fundraising efforts to empower more individuals, you can do so here.
May the odds be ever in your favour, Tammie.
Know inspiring individuals like Tammie? Get in touch with us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image courtesy of Tammie Ong.