Parents of heart donor to meet recipient in Malaysia's Penang city

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN) - The recipient of a heart tracks down donor's parents in Malaysia after reading about the teen girl's tragic death in papers.

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

Carmen, who had been studying to be a nurse at Nanyang Polytechnic, had suffered an arterial rupture in her brain.

But in death, she became a lifesaver - her heart, liver, kidneys and pancreas were donated to four patients. Her parents signed their consent for her organs to be donated under the Medical (Therapy, Education and Research) Act, which was what she had wanted.

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

The recipient - Ms Serene Lee, 37 - messaged Mr Mark on Facebook, introducing herself and asking if she could visit him and his wife.

Although the name of the donor 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 meeting will take place in Penang on Friday. ST will be making the journey with Ms Lee, a Singaporean.

Before she received Carmen's heart, Ms Lee, a part-time clinic assistant who is married with three children aged between seven and 17, 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 had 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 people waiting for heart transplants.

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

Mr Mark is a specialist construction applicator and his wife, a financial consultant. Said Mr Mark: "I hope that by coming forward, it can create an 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 said that he had faced objections when he signed the form allowing Carmen's organs to be donated. "People said she must go with a complete body. It was very hard for me but I had to do it for I believe she's not completely gone.

"She's still around in Singapore for me."