SINGAPORE - The operating room at the Angkor Hospital for Children had only basic equipment.
Doctors were gathered around the wooden operating table for a cleft lip operation on a Cambodian child.
Midway through the procedure, the lights flickered and went out.
Using handheld torches, the team completed the operation successfully, as they had done so many times before.
The small hospital did not have electricity generators, so the lights went out whenever there was a power shortage.
This was the compelling story that Dr Jonathan Ng's senior told him in 2005, when he was a first-year Raffles Junior College student. Dr Ng graduated from the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery on Saturday.
For his dedication and service to the community, he received the NUS Student Achievement Award in January.
Dr Ng's senior had been present during the operation because her father, a doctor, had gone to the Cambodian hospital to offer his services.
She had shared the account with her schoolmates to gather a team to raise funds for the hospital.
Dr Ng, 26, now a houseman undergoing training at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), was inspired by her story.
The team, all of whom were no older than 18 then, raised $311,000 through a concert, surpassing their goal of $160,000.
Dr Ng and the team helped build a new operating theatre when they went to Cambodia in 2006.
It was his experiences with the team that convinced him to study medicine at NUS.
The trip was a one-off for many of the team members, but it got Dr Ng thinking about whether they could do more. So in 2008, he led a new team as the chairman of the Children of Cambodia project to implement a programme for open heart surgery.
The need for this procedure in Cambodia was urgent because there were at least 1,200 children in the country on the waiting list then and the figure would only grow with Cambodia's high birth rate.
After their second successful initiative, Dr Ng and the team looked towards establishing a dedicated neonatal ward at the hospital, which was to be the first of its kind in Cambodia. A neonatal ward is for infants under 28 days old.
The team received a five-year grant of USD$235,000 (S$300,000) from one of their main donors and this was a great boost for the Children of Cambodia initiative.
Dr Ng said: "We could now plan five years ahead of time, which increased our efficiency. Our programme became more sophisticated as we could plot milestones along the way."
Last year, the team opened a neonatal ward with three intensive care unit beds and eight special care nursing beds at the Angkor Hospital for Children.
Dr Ng said: "The cost-to-efficiency ratio is amazing as an average neonatal bed in Singapore can cost up to $1,000 per night. "However, here we were in Cambodia running a neonatal ward and the continuing training of a unit of doctors and nurses on a budget of around US$70 a day."
The team's next project is to build a burns and reconstruction unit that will be manned with surgeons from SGH, Harvard University and the Angkor Hospital for Children.
Fund raising started last month and they have raised about $160,000 of their $500,000 target so far.
Dr Ng will be going to Cambodia soon for his 31st trip to do more research for the new unit.
He said: "The work we have done has made a big impact on the children as they now receive better care."
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