Chilli, rice and the occasional steamed bun were all one woman ate for five years to save money for her brother's medical bills. But her selflessness had tragic consequences.
Wu Huayan, 24, died in a hospital in Guizhou on Jan 13 after years of malnutrition from her frugal lifestyle left her stunted, severely underweight and battling a host of other health issues, said reports.
After losing her mother at four and her father at 18, Wu was worried about affording treatment for her brother, who suffers from intermittent psychosis.
Surviving on welfare grants of 300 yuan (S$58) each month, she scrimped and saved by skipping breakfast and eating chillies with rice daily. She would even eat chillies that had gone bad in a bid to save more money.
"I'm not like other kids who can ask their parents for more money once they use it up. I don't have [parents]," she explained.
Wu first made headlines back in October last year after taking to the internet to raise funds for a 20,000 yuan heart valve surgery that she needed.
Wu, who stood at 1.35m tall and weighed only 21.4kg, had started to feel unwell in 2018.
Her feet would often swell up, she would feel lethargic and she faced trouble sleeping. Her hair, once thick, had also begun to fall out, along with her eyebrows.
But she ignored her symptoms and refused to see a doctor until a friend insisted on it.
It was then that she was diagnosed with heart valve disease and was informed that she needed surgery — three of her four heart valves were not working properly.
While she reportedly exceeded her fundraising targets, raising 60,000 to 70,000 yuan in just a few days, she was eventually unable to undergo the surgery as she was underweight.
The unexpected publicity also took a toll on Wu, her family said, sharing that she was saddened by fraudulent organisations collecting "donations" in her name.
Several organisations, including 9958, a charity foundation, had raised thousands — supposedly meant for Wu's medical bills — without her knowledge and had not given her a single cent, they said.
Despite her financial situation, Wu, who was a third-year student at GuiZhou Forerunner College, eschewed handouts, according to a spokesperson for the school.
In order to augment her income in addition to the bursaries that she was receiving, the college gave her a job cleaning her hostel's water cooler.
Wu had always had an independent streak, her friends said. In fact, she had hesitated for days before asking for donations online as she was "afraid to trouble others".
Even when she was warded in the hospital last year, she had been looking forward to returning to school and dreamt of becoming an accountant at a bank.
She had told reporters: "I hope to recover quickly. I have to take exams next year. I want to have my own job and earn my keep with my own two hands."