Girl warded for 12 years for disease

Photo above: Norshillah Abtara celebrating her 16th birthday in 2010 with her sister, Norninah Abtara (third from left), and other hospital staff of in Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kota Kinabalu.

KOTA KINABALU - An 18-year-old girl suffering from an illness that caused her to lose mobility spent nearly 12 years warded at Queen Elizabeth Hospital here fighting the disease.

But despite her strong will, Norshilla Abtara died on Nov 4, with family members and hospital staff who have been awed with her bravery, by her bedside.

Diagnosed with transverse myelinitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord which weakens the muscles and interrupts body function, Norshillah was only 6 years old when she was admitted to the QEH in 2001.

During the 12 years she was at the QEH, perhaps social worker Ooi Kong Eow was one of her blessings. The first year she was admitted, Ooi brought her a birthday cake as he wanted her to have a memorable childhood.

"I remember she was very happy to receive the cake. Ever since, I tried to make her birthdays as lively as possible by inviting staff of the hospital and outsiders as well to join in," he said.

Ooi, 65, told New Straits Times that he treated Norshillah as one of his children, ensuring she was well taken care of physically and emotionally.

A few years back, Ooi was also among those who objected to QEH's decision to transfer her back to her hometown hospital in Tawau.

"We were worried that she wouldn't get the same level of treatment she had here, as her condition required a lot of nursing care."

Ooi visited Norshillah almost every day and sometimes he and other social workers would take her to a shopping mall, a garden and other places.

"She loved my curry chicken the most, and the dish was a must-have on her birthdays," Ooi said.

On the day Norshillah died, Ooi also arranged for her body to be sent back to her hometown.

Norshillah's elder sister Norninah took care of her since her admission to QEH.

"Norshillah always asked for her favourite food such as jelly, lollipop and some other snacks," she said, adding that although Norshillah's movements were restricted, she was able to feed herself.

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