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Mission to save limbs

Singapore’s fight against diabetes has been making headlines since the country declared war on the disease in 2016. And toiling behind the scenes are healthcare professionals like Mr Matthias Ho.

“What I love most about it is being able to work with fellow healthcare professionals to save people’s legs from amputation,” says the senior podiatrist from the Department of Foot Care & Limb Design Centre at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

Diabetes usually leads to a string of complications, with lower limb amputation among the major ones.

Podiatrists assess, treat and manage a variety of foot and lower limb conditions – musculoskeletal problems like flat feet, as well as the removal of ingrown toenails to high-risk diabetic foot ulcers. If left untreated, foot ulcers in diabetic patients can quickly become infected, turn gangrenous and may lead to amputation or an increased risk of serious health problems.

“Beyond the hands-on portion of our work, quite a significant amount of time involves patient education and empowering them to better care for their feet,” Mr Ho explains.

The number of diabetics in Singapore is projected to more than double from 440,000 in 2014 to one million by 2050. Diabetes is one of the leading causes of amputation of the lower limbs throughout the world.

Singapore has one of the highest rates of lower extremity amputations rates in the world, with 180 such amputations performed for every 100,000 adult diabetics in 2015.

Putting his best foot forward

The 31-year-old says he always had a desire to help other people.

“When the time came to choose a career path after my A-level examinations, the healthcare sector was a natural fit for me,” he says.

“As I looked at the options available, I was intrigued by podiatry. I was prompted to explore more about the field. It soon became apparent that podiatry was something out of the ordinary, where I could make a real difference to people with feet problems.”

He has been with the hospital for seven years, starting as a junior member of the podiatry team after earning a Bachelor of Science (First-class Honours) in podiatry at University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.

“Going overseas for my tertiary studies was a huge step for me, not only in terms of my education but also on a personal level,” he says.

“Studying abroad taught me to take charge of my own education, which very much mirrors the need to constantly update and upgrade ourselves with new research and treatment in healthcare.”

In 2017, he was seconded to the Ministry of Health (MOH) for three years, working as a senior manager in the Primary and Community Care Division.

Mr Ho credits his career track to the Health Science Scholarship awarded to him by the MOH Holdings (MOHH) in 2007.

Moving forward, Mr Ho sees himself playing a policy-planning role in the healthcare sector.

“I see myself progressing into an administrative role where I would be able to contribute towards the development of new healthcare services and innovative programmes in the field of podiatry.”