Asia's first test-tube baby all grown up
A commemorative book which pays tribute to those who contributed to the healthcare system was launched yesterday. JUDITH TAN spoke to three people featured in the book titled ''Caring for our People: 50 Years of Healthcare in Singapore".
For entrepreneur Samuel Lee, 32, life literally started in a petri dish.
Though his parents married young — his father was 21 and his mother 19 when they tied the knot — they could not have a baby.
After six years of trying for a baby with no luck, they took part in a clinical trial in 1982 under Professor S.S. Ratnam and Professor Ng Soon Chye.
The doctors implanted embryos in eight women, one of whom was Mr Lee's mother, Madam Tan Siew Ee.
''And as it turned out, she was successful in getting pregnant on the second attempt. I was the only success,'' Mr Lee said.
But being born to media attention made his parents uncomfortable. ''They were, after all, ordinary folks living in a three-room HDB flat,'' he said.
His father was a security supervisor and his mother a secretary.
''In-vitro fertilisation (IVF) was very expensive then. Thankfully, it was subsidised, making it affordable for them,'' he said.
Despite having an extraordinary conception, Mr Lee was raised an ordinary boy.
''I was not treated as if I was special. I played with my cousins, who were around my age, and was punished when I misbehaved,'' he said, adding that he is glad his parents did not spoil him.
Mr Lee said he was first told he was Asia's first test-tube baby at the age of three.
''At that age, I didn't even know what it meant. Only that I enjoyed seeing my photos in the newspapers and on TV.
''It was only when I started school that the teachers and classmates recognised me. I was teased and called 'man-made','' he said. He only really understood what it meant to be a test-tube baby when he was 13.
''And even if I was conceived differently, I still lived in my mother's womb for nine months, like any other baby,'' he said.
Mr Lee only found out years later that there were ''others just like me'', when they had a gathering. Proud to be part of Singapore's medical history,
Mr Lee, who is single, said he hopes to settle down and have children. ''Whether my own children come out of a test-tube or not, I think all babies are miracles,'' he said.
She fought with oil pastels
Siti Rasyidah Lokman Hadan's life grew dark after she was diagnosed, at age 13, with a debilitating disease that has since ravaged her body.
Two years later, Miss Siti Rasyidah (inset) turned to art - drawing with oil pastels.
Now, four of the 23-year-old's art pieces are used in namecard holders, coasters and other corporate gifts that MOH Holdings (MOHH) gives to visitors.
It has been a tough journey for Miss Siti Rasyidah.
At 13, she was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus, which caused her immune system to attack her body.
A year later, her kidneys failed and she needed dialysis - peritoneal every day and haemodialysis twice a week.
At 18, she was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease, an inflammatory bowel disease.
At 21, her heart "decided not to function properly", partly due to her kidney failure and she had to have a pacemaker put in,she said.
In May, she had a kidney transplant.
Miss Siti Rasyidah has been in and out of the National University Hospital (NUH) so often she even calls it her second home. But she never gave up.
"I admit that I am not the easiest patient in the world. I get moody and upset, especially when my body throws up one challenge after another," she said.
It was her mother who forced paper and oil pastels on her.
"I started drawing. It is through my artwork that my feelings get converted into energy," she said.
She began drawing in 2007 and started taking part in NUH's Project Dreamcatchers in 2012, which helps young patients deal with chronic illnesses through art.
"It makes me less stressed. My mum says each time I start drawing, it means I have something on my mind," she said.
He's 'lost' only one patient in 33 years
Yesterday was the first time ambulance driver Chandra Palany, 56, saw his photo and story in the commemorative book.
Pointing to the black and white photos of the Volkswagen ambulances, he said: "These were the trusty ambulances I drove in the 1980s."
"They were sturdy enough for me to beat the red light when I needed to get a patient in critical condition to the hospital," he said.
The veteran driver from Singapore General Hospital (SGH) recalled that he once had to drive at a speed of 130km on the expressway to get a patient in critical condition from the airport to the hospital before he worsened.
"I take pride in the fact that I have not lost anyone while I am at the wheel," he said.
But in his 33 years, he has lost a patient but "not in that way".
Into his fifth year with SGH, he was transferring a patient to Woodbridge Hospital, now known as the Institute of Mental Health.
"There was only a male nurse accompanying him at the back. When I stopped at a traffic light a few kilometres from Woodbridge, the patient opened the doors, jumped out. I only realised it when I saw him running and the nurse chasing from behind," he said.
Shocked, Mr Palany said he parked the ambulance on the side of the road and gave chase too.
"But the guy was very fast and we lost him. I am not sure if they managed to get him back," he said.
Becoming an ambulance driver and saving lives was a childhood dream come true for Mr Palany.
"As a boy, I used to get excited whenever I hear the sirens of an ambulance. I told myself I wanted to do that job when I grew up," he said.