Photo above: A last goodbye: Fatimah bringing flowers to the funeral parlour along Jalan Fatimah in Batu Pahat.
BATU PAHAT - Miracle girl Tee Hui Yi's life was not easy as her childhood friend and schoolmate Fatimah Johari, 19, can attest.
Hui Yi, 19, who had survived a double heart transplant in 2007, had complained to her parents that she was having back and chest pains at around 7am on Tuesday when things suddenly turned for the worse.
She later died at the Batu Pahat Hospital - on the very day she was to have started work as a kindergarten teacher.
"Hui Yi had to live with a lot of pain growing up. She wanted to lead a normal life and in many ways she did except when you noticed the tubes sticking out of her body," she said, referring to the mechanical heart that kept her alive before she underwent two heart transplants in 2007.
Hui Yi captured the imagination of the nation when she successfully underwent a second heart transplant within 24 hours on Oct 5, with the media headlining her story.
The first heart transplant failed but, miraculously, another one became available just then and, this time, her body accepted the heart.
Fatimah said Hui Yi tried to play like other children her age but was restricted due to her health condition.
"I admired her positive spirit but it was also sad to see her staring at us from the sidelines especially during Physical Education," she said when met at the funeral parlour here yesterday.
Fatimah said that she was shocked to hear Hui Yi had died on Tuesday as she had wanted to visit her soon.
"She was so happy when the last transplant went well and had so many plans," she said, adding that it was a sad ending to a beautiful story.
Hui Yi's aunt Faridah Sampe, 57, said her death was a shock.
"She was slowly recovering from the transplant and had become such a strong and lovely girl," she said.
Hui Yi had stayed with her in Kuala Lumpur while recovering from the operation and would put up at her house whenever she needed to go for a check-up at the National Heart Institute (IJN).
Although Hui Yi insisted she was fine, Faridah suspected something amiss when she went to IJN for her last checkup on Sept 3.
She said Hui Yi's face looked bloated and she seemed weak.
"She assured me everything was all right," said Faridah, adding she would miss chatting with Hui Yi over home-made nasi lemak which was her favourite.
Hui Yi was stable during last check-up
Hui Yi was stable during last check-up
On the day she died, Hui Yi had complained of back and chest pains at about 7am but refused to go to hospital for treatment, her mother Dina Bato Sam Bua said.
"She asked me to make her some toasted bread and Horlicks but she only ate one slice and vomited the rest," Dina said.
"Then she said she wanted to rest for a while. The next moment her whole body went stiff."
Hui Yi's condition had been stable during her last medical check-up at the National Heart Institute (IJN).
In a statement released by IJN yesterday, it said the visit had been on Sept 3 at its transplant outpatient clinic.
It said Hui Yi was continued on her routine medication.
"Over the past four years, Miss Tee had developed episodes of rejections of the new heart and was treated accordingly," it added. "In April 2012, she was found to have developed graft coronary artery disease and she was started on treatment for this condition."
IJN transplant coordinator Sharifah Noraida Syed Nom, who was one of the nurses that took care of Hui Yi throughout her transplants and subsequent check-ups, said that many members of the staff were upset when they found out about her death.
"She was a living medical miracle and we will always miss her happy-go-lucky attitude," she said.
Meanwhile, in Petaling Jaya, IJN cardiothoracic surgeon Prof Dr Mohamed Ezani Md Taib, who had performed the heart transplant surgery on Hui Yi, said she was the beacon of strength for the team five years ago.
Post-mortem report reveals death by heart failure
Post-mortem report reveals Hui Yi died of heart failure
A post-mortem report has revealed that Hui Yi died from congestive heart failure.
Her father Ah Soon, 57, said it did not matter that they were not given details about her death because all the family wanted was to be given time to mourn her untimely passing.
"It is a shame that she is gone especially after she got another chance at life after the transplant," he said at the Chinese funeral parlour at Jalan Fatimah here yesterday.
Both Ah Soon and Hui Yi's mother Dina Bato Sam Bua, 52, were grateful for the hundreds of calls, messages and visits to the funeral parlour by relatives, loved ones and caring strangers.
"I was shocked to see such a large group of people especially on Monday night," he said, adding that all the family could do was pray for her soul.
IJN's statement added that according to international data, the most common cause of death for heart transplant recipients between three and five years, were coronary artery disease (14.5 per cent), acute rejection (10.2 per cent) and graft failure (23.1 per cent).
"It is difficult to ascertain the actual cause of death but the most likely possibilities are either cardiac event such as abnormal heart rhythm leading to a loss of blood pressure, graft failure or a spontaneous cerebral-bleed since she was on blood thinners," it added.
The statement said she would be fondly remembered and greatly missed.
Shock and anger
News of Hui Yi's death came as a shock to her boyfriend, who spent the previous day with a group of friends.
Lau Shie Chiek, 22, said he was sad but also angry at Hui Yi for refusing to be treated at a hospital when she was in pain.
"I was having dinner with her on Monday night when she complained of severe backache and breathing difficulty.
"I told her I would send her to the hospital but she adamantly refused," he said, adding that he massaged her back before sending her home at around 10pm.
Lau said he called Hui Yi several times to check on her condition while driving to Singapore where he works.
"She spoke to me several times throughout the night and told me that she had vomited several times. I pestered her to see a doctor but she refused."
Lau said that when they first got together about a month ago, Hui Yi had explained her condition and warned Lau about getting into a relationship with her.
"I did not care about that and assured her that I would be by her side.
"When I got a call from her best friend saying that she had died, my heart just stopped. I rushed back to Batu Pahat crying the whole way," Lau added.