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Becoming a Pediatrician

Kellie Lim has overcome almost insurmountable obstacles to graduate from medical school and take up residency in pediatrics in Los Angeles.

Using a doll, doctors showed 8-year-old Kellie Lim (WCAS02) what would happen to her body. Her legs, her right arm and three fingers on her left hand would be amputated to save her life from bacterial meningitis.

After being hospitalized for four months, Lim stood up for the first time onto prosthetic sockets, or stubbies, without feet or pylons. She was about 3 inches off the floor.

"It was one of the most traumatic events of my life," Lim says. "The loss of my limbs didn't really hit me until that time."

That experience helped push Lim toward a career in pediatrics. "Just having that experience of being someone so sick and how devastating that can be -- not just for me but for my family, too -- gives me a perspective that other people don't necessarily have," Lim told the Los Angeles Times in May.

This June, Lim graduated from medical school at the University of California, Los Angeles, to become a pediatrician, fulfilling a lifelong dream. She recently looked back at an old newspaper article written about her as a child. What did 10-year-old Kellie want to become? A pediatrician.

"I totally forgot about that," Lim says with a laugh. "I don't know why I wanted to be a pediatrician. It's just that being in the hospital was very difficult for me as a little kid, and the doctors and nurses, they were just awesome people."

When it came time for college at Northwestern, "I had to sit myself back in a wheelchair for the first time in six years," she says. With 13 pounds of prosthetic legs, Lim needed the wheelchair to make her north-to-south campus trek between classes because too much walking caused ulcers on her legs.

"It was like losing my independence again," she said. "I would get out of the wheelchair to walk into class, and people would be looking and wondering."

Coming to Northwestern, where she majored in biology and Asian studies, marked the first time Lim had left her home. Her mother, who went blind in her 20s, and her father were Chinese immigrants who raised three children in suburban Detroit.

At Northwestern Lim supported herself with two jobs, including a post as a research assistant at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, while struggling with everyday challenges, such as how to cross Sheridan Road without getting hit.

"I had to ask for curb cuts. I had to ask for doors to be changed. I had to be an advocate for myself," she said. "It's what shaped my life. It showed me how I can be independent."

Maryellen Hale (McC03), Lim's senior-year Kemper Hall suitemate, remembers being impressed with Lim's ability to handle any obstacle.

"Her disability is really not something I think about," Hale says. "When she enters a room, she has a very big presence, and when she talks to you, her disability is not something you focus on, just because she has such a strong personality and a strong sense of identity."

While at Northwestern, Lim lived in a dorm no different from any other student's except that it was larger. Now living in California, she lives alone in a first-floor apartment that isn't adapted in any way. She drives, with the help of a steering ball, and has tried swimming and horseback riding.

After graduating from UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine with the school's highest honor in pediatrics, Lim began her residency at UCLA Medical Center in June, working up to 80 hours a week. She walks through the hospital on prosthetic legs and conducts medical procedures without a prosthetic arm. Competent and confident, she's just like any other doctor and doesn't want to be thought of any differently -- except that since May, she's been on Larry King Live, in the Los Angeles Times and featured in many other major media outlets for her remarkable achievements.

"I do feel a little bit more self-conscious," Lim says. "I think it's still weird when people stop me in the hallway and say, 'Oh, I saw you on TV.' ... People think I should be an advocate for the disabled, that I should be a spokesperson for major organizations. But I don't feel like that's one of my major goals in life."

Lim is a pediatrician. It's what she wanted to do, and it's what her late mother wanted her to do. Her accomplishment fulfills a promise she made before her mother died three years ago.

"At the end of the day I think I've made a difference," she says of her perseverance. "You give up so much of your life to become a physician, and to know that I have so many colleagues and now friends who have a similar goal in life, it's really satisfying."

-- Stephanie Yiu (J08)

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Kellie Lim checks a young patient during rounds at the UCLA Medical Center. When Lim was 8, a raging infection of bacterial meningitis forced the amputation of both legs below the knee, her right hand and forearm and three fingertips on her remaining hand.Photo by Mark Boster and <em>Los Angeles Times</em>