Heart transplant in Singapore: Parents to meet mum who received daughter's heart
Read this moving story of how a heart transplant in Singapore brought two families together...
It is a story that will bring tears to your eyes. A story of death. Of life. And of hope.
2 years back, in July 2015, tragedy struck the happy home of Mark Kok Wah and his wife Ariess Tan. Their only child, 18-year-old Carmen, died.
Carmen was studying at Nanyang Polytechnic in Singapore- pursuing her lifelong ambition of becoming a nurse. She had even obtained a full scholarship to pursue her studies.
Things were going fine until that fateful day, when Carmen suffered an arterial rupture in her brain. She was declared brain dead after being hospitalised in Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore for 25 days.
It was when doctors lost all hope of a miracle that daddy Mark made the brave decision. It was not an easy decision, and family members were against it, but Mark knew that it was the right thing to do.
He tells the New Straits Times, “I knew then that there was nothing else we could do for my little girl. It was then that I decided to donate her organs. I have not regretted the decision I made on that fateful day back in July 2015.”
It was apparently Carmen’s wish that her organs be donated after her death, and her parents honoured her desire. They signed their consent for her organs to be donated under Singapore’s Medical (Therapy, Education and Research) Act – her heart, liver, kidney and pancreas were donated to patients.
Says Mark, “Today, Carmen lives on in eight different people.”
In another part of Singapore, mummy of 3, Serene Lee, had lost all hope.
Serene, a part-time clinic assistant, with three children aged between seven and 14, had no heartbeat of her own. She suffered from a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy, in which the heart becomes enlarged and cannot pump blood efficiently.
A common cause of heart failure — the heart’s inability to supply the body with enough blood — dilated cardiomyopathy can also contribute to irregular heartbeats, blood clots or sudden death.
Serene’s heart had to be fully powered by a mechanical pump that ran on a set of external batteries that had to be recharged every 12 hours.
Serene had lost all hope of a heart transplant, and had even asked to be removed from the waiting list. And that’s when she received Carmen’s heart.
It changed her life forever, and she told The Straits Times, “I will treasure this heart and live life to the fullest.”
Meanwhile, Mark and Ariess, who are based in Penang, Malaysia, were never able to get over their daughter’s death…
Mark revealed to the New Straits Times, “Our baby girl’s death affected the both of us very badly. Every night, I would go up to the attic to cry there while my wife would do so down here.”
In June this year, he posted how he would do anything to hear his daughter’s heartbeat again…Unknown to him, Serene Lee, recipient of Carmen’s heart, had been following him on Facebook, since August 2015.
Donors and recipients are usually kept anonymous, but Serene had managed to track the couple down after reading about Carmen’s death in The Straits Times.
Last month, on Aug 4, Serene sent Mark a private message on Facebook, saying she was willing to meet him. She also sent him her contact number.
This is the moving message that Serene sent Mark (that was published in The Straits Times recently with their permission):
“Dear Mr Mark,
Firstly, I am sorry that I had been looking at your Facebook posts since Aug 2015. And twice you posted that you wish to hear your daughter’s heartbeat. How much I wanted to tell you: here I am. I will fly over to Penang to let you hear.
“Yes I am Serene, the heart recipient from Carmen your daughter. Since Aug 2015 I have been looking at your Facebook posts. It made me cry to see how much you miss her.
I think partly because, of all organs, I took her heart!! And so it was really emotional for me. I even promised this heart that I will bring her home (to Penang) every year. Which I did in 2016, and I finally had peace.
However you posted twice about wanting to hear Carmen’s heart beat and I really can’t take it any longer. I had no peace until I told myself I needed to contact you.
As you know I am not allowed to contact you. But I decided to do it!
Two years have passed and it’s really tugging at this heart of your daughter. I don’t know how to express it but I’m very sure she misses you. If not, why (could I find) no peace until I stepped into Penang last year.
I even went to Komtar (a large shopping mall in Penang) because you posted on Facebook that you had a job there.
Now the ball is in your court. If you are willing and ready to see me, and hear her heart beat, I will fly over this September. I will bring a stethoscope to let you hear (Carmen’s heartbeat). If you are willing I would like to also say my thanks to her.
I had been walking the National Heart Center (NHCS) wards way before I had a heart transplant. I am in charge of the patient support group for heart failure patients at NHCS.
So I promise you. Carmen’s legacy will live on and I will walk the hospital wards until this heart stops, to be an inspiration to other patients for as long as this heart beats.”
The reunion will take place in Penang on Friday (Sept 15), and Mark, Ariess and Serene have already set up a WhatsApp chat group for the three of them.
Mark tells NST, “It was just like the good old days when we had a special chat group with our Carmen. Now, our daughter is a 37-year-old.”
Mark and Serene hope that their stories will raise awareness about the importance of organ donation and lift some of the religious and cultural taboos associated with it.
Their story is all about hope and living on, and Mark’s words are so touching, “Just like how our Carmen had saved lives, we hope that we will be able to inspire others to also do the same.”