Liver donor's surprise visit leaves recipient's parents speechless
Father lost for words when he met donor who saved son's life
They had prepared a long speech to thank the man who saved their three-year-old son's life.
But when the liver donor showed up unexpectedly on Monday morning at his son's hospital ward, Mr V. Senthilkumar, 44, and his wife, Madam Supashini, 33, were at a loss for words.
"My son, Supash, was having his breakfast when the liver transplant coordinator suddenly turned up and said the donor was here to see him," Mr Senthilkumar told The New Paper.
"Suddenly, all the questions I wanted to ask the donor and all the heartfelt words I wanted to say to him went out of my head."
The visit did not last long as the donor, whom Mr Senthilkumar described as a man in his 40s, quickly excused himself and left within five minutes.
"He just stood by Supash's bed and watched him eat his thosai. He didn't say much.
"Meanwhile, I frantically tried to remember what I wanted to tell him, but all I could say was a simple thank you."
Mr Senthilkumar still does not know the donor's name or contact number.
Said Madam Supashini: "We wanted to tell him that he saved three lives - our son's, my husband's and mine. Our nightmare is finally over. We could not be more grateful to him for giving us our normal lives back."
Supash had been suffering from biliary atresia, a form of chronic liver disease, since his birth in 2011. Most children with his condition do not live beyond their third birthday.
Since 2012, Mr Senthilkumar had been actively searching for a donor, but neither he nor his 20 family members, including his wife and Supash's eight-year-old sister, were a match.
Since the first TNP report last November, he had received more than 200 calls, messages and e-mails from potential donors.
On Dec 22, Mr Senthilkumar received the first piece of concrete good news - a suitable liver donor had been found for his son and approved by the National Transplant Ethics Committee.
Supash underwent a successful 12-hour operation at the National University Hospital (NUH) on Jan 20.
There was a small scare, however, in the following week as the boy had to undergo another three-hour operation on Jan 27 to remove infected water from his stomach.
"It turned out well, although we were initially worried because it happened during the critical recovery period, when anything could have happened, such as Supash's body rejecting the liver," Mr Senthilkumar said.
Since then, Supash has made great strides in his recovery.
When TNP visited him and his parents at NUH on Tuesday, we noticed that the jaundice - a common symptom of biliary atresia - in Supash had subsided.
The whites of his eyes, which used to be dark yellow, are now their natural colour. His bloated stomach, caused by the build-up of fluids in his abdomen, had also been reduced in size by 70 per cent, said his father.
He was visibly more active and happier, compared to his listless self before the life-saving transplant. (See report on right.)
Supash still has to consume 11types of medicine daily, particularly an anti-rejection medicine that he has to take for the rest of his life, Mr Senthilkumar said.
He said he was advised by doctors to keep his son at home and away from crowds to minimise the possibility of catching any infectious diseases.
"That means no visits to the playground just yet, but the worst is definitely over," he said with a smile.
Said Madam Supashini: "I've not had a good night's sleep since my son was born. I worried and cried for him every day. But in the past week, I've had the best sleep in three years."
Mr Senthilkumar, who had quit his job as a warehouse assistant to care for his son over the past months, added: "Now, seeing that my son is recovering well, I can finally relax. I've also started going for job interviews.
"My wife and I want to thank everyone who helped and prayed for Supash, the NUH doctors and nurses and most importantly, the donor who saved my son's life."
"We wanted to tell him that he saved three lives - our son's, my husband's and mine."
- Madam Supashini, who, with her husband, was so moved by the man who donated part of his liver to her son that she was at a loss for words when she met him.
Boy's parents vital to his recovery
GOT HIS BACK: Supash’s parents Supashini and V. Senthilkumar have been pillars of strength for their boy. - TNP PHOTO: SIMON KER
We could not have got to this point with Supash if it were not for his parents, said his doctor, Associate Professor Marion Aw.
The senior consultant at National University Hospital's division of paediatric gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition said that Supash crossed many hurdles to recovery, such as the transplant surgery and immediate post-operative period.
But the medical staff, including a multi-disciplinary team of doctors, nurses, dietician and physiotherapist, could not have done it without Mr V. Senthilkumar and Madam Supashini.
"His parents have been extremely supportive and dedicated to his care," Dr Aw told The New Paper.
She said that Supash is on his way to leading a normal life and is eating well.
Before the operation, most of the food was fed to him through a feeding tube inserted into his mouth.
"But several weeks after the transplant, we have been able to take out the feeding tube and he is eating all his food by himself," she said.
Supash, however, has to take anti-rejection medicine, which leaves him at a higher risk to infections, especially in the immediate post-transplant period.
So he has to take up to 11 types of medicine daily. He also has to attend regular check-ups, first weekly, then possibly monthly as he gets better.
Medical social workers are assisting Supash's family financially and the hospital staff have taught his parents how to manage his medication and what to look out for after the operation.
"Supash is a brave boy. Throughout his illness, he has been a strong fighter," Dr Aw said.
"Just before the transplant, it was obvious that he was suffering quite a fair bit. He was more quiet and less active. Now, he is an active and cheerful little boy."
Keep giving the gift of life
What a difference three months has made for little Supash.
When I first met him last November at his Bukit Batok home, he mostly lay listless on the sofa and had to be carried by his mother from place to place.
His dark yellow eyes were unmistakable, even from far, and his bloated stomach was a worrying sight.
But on Tuesday, three weeks after his liver transplant operation, Supash looked nothing like the sickly child of a few months ago.
The jaundice in his eyes and skin was gone.
His eyes, for the first time since he was born, were white. The previously pale yellow tinge on his skin had faded.
He was in good spirits as he played with toy cars on his hospital bed. He giggled and smiled at his nutritionist and was almost as active as any normal three-year-old boy.
And this would not have been possible if not for the selfless donation of part of his liver by a man whose name is not known to Supash's parents.
Clearly, he did it not for money or fame but because of an altruistic wish to save a life.
When actor Pierre Png donated part of his liver to his wife Andrea De Cruz in 2002, his noble act tugged at the heartstrings of many Singaporeans.
The culture of giving has grown in Singapore in recent years, with many reaching deep into their pockets to help others in needs, including foreigners such as the Vietnamese man who was allegedly cheated at a mobile phone shop in Sim Lim Square.
But giving away part of your body to a stranger is another thing altogether.
Yet, in the last two years, such acts have grown more common, perhaps emblematic of the increasingly kinder and more sympathetic nature of Singaporeans.
For example, The New Paper reported in December that nursing lecturer Regina Lee planned to donate part of her liver to a stranger after reading about his condition in the papers, despite her family objecting.
Earlier last year, 10-year-old Phyllis Poh received a new liver from another stranger after her older brother, Skye, expressed a wish in The Straits Times for someone to save her.
As Supash prepares for a new lease of life during this festive period, I hope that this spirit of giving and selflessness will be here to stay because there are still many more who need help.
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