Hawker with 95 per cent burns returns to work
Hawker with horrific burns now almost fully healed just two months after food stall fire
Barely two months ago, Mr Chiok Tiong Kwee suffered burns on 95 per cent of his face.
Today, he is almost fully healed.
The 66-year-old's face may still be pinkish and his neck has a recovering wound, but you can hardly tell that he once suffered second-degree burns extensively on his face, neck and arms.
On Chinese New Year's Eve morning, a fire broke out at Mr Chiok's Fo Shou Vegetarian Food stall in Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre.
The elderly stall owner tried to put out the fire at his stove with a fire extinguisher, but was unable to break the extinguisher out of its locked case. Panicking, he used a wet gunny sack to try and smother the fire instead.
But the flames got bigger and ended up burning his face, neck and arms. He was taken to Singapore General Hospital (SGH), where he stayed for four days.
For the first two weeks after being discharged,Mr Chiok stayed home recuperating, sleeping and watching television.
Mr Chiok, who has four grown-up children and lives in a three-room HDB flat with a couple he rents a room to, said in Mandarin: "I didn't want to leave the house because I wanted to avoid the stares that I was going to get.
"It took me more than a month to be able to go (to Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre) and have my meals there again."
On his miraculous recovery with barely any scarring on his face, Mr Chiok said that he simply followed his doctor's prescription and applied his medicine on time, along with an occasional facial treatment.
But he added: "I'm already so old, whether it scars or not, doesn't matter to me."
He said his burns had not been that painful after the initial few days but were itchy.
Mr Chiok re-opened his stall five days ago.
"Staying home, it's difficult to pass time. It's very boring," he said.
Working at his stall gives him something to do and people to talk to. The stall has been running for close to 26 years.
Mr Chiok said that on the first day of his return, many asked how he was doing and told him to be more careful. Even during his recovery at home over the Chinese New Year period, he received hongbao from different people, including his tenants.
He even received a handwritten letter from Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam wishing him a "quick recovery".
He said: "I am very grateful to everyone. One auntie even gave me two pears and wished me a speedy recovery!"
The hawker manages the stall by himself. He said: "When I'm cooking and the heat rises from the wok, I can feel it on my face and I can't help but feel a little fear."
But Mr Chiok remains carefree and said he does not take any special precautions after the accident.
He even joked: "My skin is more tender than a baby's now."
It took me more than a month to be able to go (to Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre) and have my meals there again.- Mr Chiok Tiong Kwee (left)
Good genes could help heal burns
The main factor that affects how fast and well a wound heals in burn injuries lies in the depth of the injury.
Even though Mr Chiok Tiong Kwee suffered extensive burns, most of these were probably a combination of first- and second-degree burns, said Dr Eileen Tan, a dermatologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.
First-degree burns are superficial. Second-degree burns involve more layers of the skin and would appear red and blistered. More serious burns include third-degree and fourth-degree burns.
Dr Tan said that scarring can be prevented for second-degree burns if proper treatment is provided quickly.However, secondary complications, like infections, may affect widespread wounds
Genes can also play a part in the healing process of burns, Dr Tan added. Hence, Mr Chiok's speedy recovery could be due to good genes.