Tribute to pioneers in birthplace of S'poreans

Tribute to pioneers in birthplace of S'poreans
Former director of nursing Lee Yoke Lan and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong with a model of a baby used in KKH's simulation centre.

SINGAPORE - In the early years after Singapore's independence, it was common for children to be treated for worms, stomach flu and malnutrition.

These days, they suffer from over-nutrition instead, said veteran paediatrician Phua Kong Boo, 73, at an event to honour pioneer health-care workers from KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH).

This was one of the many comments that drew knowing chuckles from the 400-strong crowd at the tribute at the hospital yesterday.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong thanked them for "laying the foundation for a strong and robust health-care system" and for helping Singapore achieve some of the world's lowest death rates for newborn babies and children.

"KKH is the birthplace of generations of Singaporeans who have gone on to contribute to the growth of Singapore... whether as leaders, teachers, researchers or even as health-care professionals like you," he said.

"As pioneers of this institution, you have played an important role in bringing into the world the future of our nation."

The current and retired staff he was addressing are at least 62 years old this year.

They were treated to a performance by the KKH choir, and listened to talks by Prof Phua, senior consultant for paediatric gastroenterology, and assistant director of nursing Helena Mahesan.

Mr Gan, together with Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower Amy Khor, SingHealth's group chief executive officer Ivy Ng, KKH senior management and the audience, also signed handprints that will be on a new wall mural in the Children's Tower.

"The current generation carries the responsibility of keeping alive our pioneers' spirit of perseverance, endurance, grit and resilience," Mr Gan said.

Decades ago, doctors and nurses worked through challenging times, serving 40-bed wards that were overflowing.

"Babies were born at a world-record making rate," said Prof Phua, referring to how the hospital made it into the Guinness Book of World Records in 1966 because almost 40,000 babies were delivered that year - the highest in a single maternity facility then.

It held the record until 1976.

Ms Mahesan, who is in her late 60s, said that one of the starkest differences between then and now was the lack of disposable items.

Injection needles were sharpened on stones and syringes were made of glass. Even used dressing had to be washed and sterilised for the next patient.

The role of nurses has also changed. Nurses of yesteryear were only in clinical or administrative career tracks.

Now, they can choose to specialise in areas such as information technology and research.

"This will change how young people view nursing and hopefully make them more excited about the career," said Ms Mahesan, who has spent 50 years in nursing, and more than half of them in KKH.

Parents, too, have become more knowledgeable, and no longer treat doctors' words as "the gospel truth", added Professor Tan Cheng Lim, 75, emeritus consultant for paediatric haematology and oncology at the hospital.

The longest-serving paediatrician in public service - he has been treating children for 49 years - is proud of how far Singapore has come.

"We are right at the top... our hard work is paying off," he said.

This article was first published on October 5, 2014.
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