Dying woman and son get final reunion

Corporate communications executive Penny Chua (above) helped to reunite a mother and son who were separated for over 10 years. She later received pictures of their reunion on her phone.
PHOTO: IMH

She reunited a dying mum with her son she had not seen in a decade.

Over the course of seven months, Ms Penny Chua, 47, had to surmount many obstacles for this reunion.

For her compassion, the corporate communications executive at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) was given the PS21 Star Service Award yesterday.

She received the award from Ms Yong Ying-I, Permanent Secretary (Public Service Division).

"I didn't do this to win any awards," Ms Chua told The New Paper.

"As a mother, I could understand Madam Yuen's (the dying woman) sentiments of wanting to know what became of her son after not knowing for 10 years.

"The knowledge gave her closure and peace of mind," said Ms Chua, who has two daughters and a son aged between 13 and 21.

Ms Chua, a former teacher, first learnt of Madam Yuen's plight from an e-mail sent by the woman's neighbour, who had become her caregiver.

"She wrote that Madam Yuen was 94, blind, mute and bedridden.

"She had lost contact with her only son for more than 10 years after she had dementia and became frail. That was also when her son was admitted to IMH," she said.

Unfortunately, Madam Yuen took a turn for the worse and fell critically ill with pneumonia in January 2011. Her dying wish was to be reunited with her only son.

"I felt really bad for the old woman and wanted to help, but I only had his name and even that was not spelt properly," Ms Chua said.

Not wanting to give up, she went through the list of the hospital's long-staying patients "for a couple of weeks" and discovered that the man, in his 50s, had been discharged and was living in Pelangi Village, a purpose-built social welfare complex that provides care and rehabilitation of destitute persons.

"When we found him, he was in no shape to see his mother. He was easily agitated and talking to himself.

"With the help of medical social workers and Dr (Alex) Su, who visited the son during his lunch break, we managed to readmit him to IMH to help stabilise his condition," she said.

Dr Su is the vice-chairman of the medical board (clinical quality) at IMH.

It took "a couple more weeks" before the man was stable enough to visit his mother at the Lions' Home for the Elders in Toa Payoh.

ORCHESTRATING

"That needed a lot of orchestrating. He had to be accompanied by two medical social workers and a security officer. I didn't go along because it was my birthday and I had taken the day off.

"But when they sent the photos of mother and son to my phone, I felt that I received the best birthday present that year," she said.

Madam Yuen and her son sat side by side, Ms Chua was told.

"They didn't speak but Madam Yuen seemed to sense her son was there. She responded with moans and nods...

"I was told they seemed comforted by each other's presence and when it was time to leave, the son, who had never ever uttered a word, suddenly said 'bye bye'," Ms Chua said, her voice breaking.

Madam Yuen died in January 2012, two months after the reunion.

"I'm glad I played a part in her closure. At least she knew her son was okay," Ms Chua said.

Dr Su said: "'I'm very proud of Penny for winning this award. She has shown us that we should always go the extra mile for our patients as nothing is impossible if you really make the effort."

juditht@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on October 16, 2015.
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