SINGAPORE – It has been two years since Mr Mark Kok Wah, 46, and his wife Ariess Tan, 43, received the worst news news any parent could hear. Their 18-year-old daughter and only child Carmen, had died.

The 18-year-old nursing student, who had been studying to be a nurse at Nanyang Polytechnic, had suffered an arterial rupture in her brain.

Her organs saved four lives.

Recently, her parents, who are Malaysian and live in Penang, heard from the woman who received their daughter’s heart.

On Aug 4 this year, the recipient – Ms Serene Lee, 37, messaged Mr Mark on Facebook, introducing herself and asking if she could visit them.

Although the name of recipients is kept anonymous, Ms Lee had connected the dots and tracked the couple down after reading about Carmen’s death in The Straits Times.

The reunion will take place in Penang on Friday (Sept 15), and The Straits Times will be making the journey to the Malaysian state with Ms Lee, a Singaporean.

Heart recipient Serene Lee (left) with her children Jasher, 14, Jazaree, 7 and Joash, 17. The photo was taken in 2016 during Mrs Lee’s first trip to Taiwan with a new heart. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SERENE LEE

Before she received Carmen’s heart, Ms Lee, who is married with three children aged between seven and 14, had no heartbeat of her own. Her heart was fully powered instead by a mechanical pump that ran on a set of external batteries that has to be recharged every 12 hours. She suffered from dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle which causes a weakening of the heart such that it is unable to pump blood efficiently. This condition often leads to heart failure.

“I will treasure this heart and live life to the fullest. I’m grateful to Mr Mark… as he could have chosen to say ‘no’. Now, I want to carry on Carmen’s legacy (of helping others) and promote organ donation together with her parents,” said Ms Lee, who now volunteers at the patient support group at the National Heart Centre Singapore to help patients waiting for heart transplants.

Mr Mark and Ms Lee said they are coming forward with their stories to raise awareness about organ donations in this part of the world, so more lives can be saved and that Carmen’s legacy can be continued.

Said Mr Mark: “I hope that by coming forward, it can create impact and change people’s mindsets about the gift of life. The taboo among Asians on organ donation is hindering many lives from being saved.”

He added that he had faced objections when signed the form allowing Carmen’s organs to be donated.

“People said she must go in a complete body. It was a very hard for me but I have to do it, for I believe she’s not completely 100 per cent gone. She’s still around in Singapore to me.”

Mr Mark is a specialist construction applicator, and his wife, a financial consultant.

Even in her death, their daughter’s desire to help others was honoured, as her heart, liver, kidney and pancreas were donated to four patients. Her parents signed their consent for Carmen’s organs to be donated under Singapore’s Medical (Therapy, Education and Research) Act, which was what she had wanted.

This is the message that Ms Lee sent to Mr Mark via Facebook. The Straits Times is publishing itwith permission from both Mr Mark and Ms Lee:

“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 daugher’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.”

*ST reporter Audrey Tan will be accompanying Ms Lee on her journey to Penang as she meets the parents of her heart donor. Their stories will be featured later this week.

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