Heroine from HK hostel fire now at SGH

Singaporean dancer Tiara Zhang Zhi Zhen.

SINGAPORE - For nearly two weeks, the elderly couple would take the train every day from Jurong to the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) to see their comatose daughter, who lies on a bed, her breathing supported by a machine.

Before her heroic act in a fire in Hong Kong last December, Singaporean Tiara Zhang Zhi Zhen was up and swirling on her feet as a competitive ballroom dancer who was also known for being helpful.

"Mei mei (younger sister in Mandarin), you have to wake up soon. You need to stand up on your feet and personally thank all the people who have helped you and cared for you while you are in hospital," the woman in her 70s told her daughter in a mix of Mandarin and Cantonese.

As if reacting to her mother, Miss Zhang's body twitched.

"She can hear us. You see, she has responded," said the mother, who gave her name only as Madam Song when The Straits Times dropped by the ward on Wednesday. Her older son works as an engineer.

Keeping watch daily over their daughter, Madam Song and her husband, a retiree in his 70s, who gave his name only as Mr Zhang, remain hopeful that she would come out of the coma.

They have learnt a lot more about their daughter after her act of bravery in the Yesinn guest house in Hong Kong on the morning of Dec 29 last year.

Instead of fleeing when the fire broke out, she rushed to alert other guests but ended up inhaling too much smoke and collapsed, later falling into a coma.

Last week, Miss Zhang, 33, was flown back to Singapore after more than a month in a hospital in Hong Kong. She is now in the intensive care unit at SGH.

It was only after the accident that Madam Song found out that her daughter had represented Singapore in ballroom dancing competitions such as the Asian Indoor Games Vietnam 2009.

"Many of her friends and colleagues came forward to tell me how much she has helped them. A relative showed me a newspaper report which had a photo of her with the Singapore flag. I am very proud of her," she said.

So far, Miss Zhang's condition has been "stable". There are no burn marks on her body and she does not need surgery for now, said Madam Song.

As she spoke, her husband, hands clasped and back slightly hunched, stood still next to Miss Zhang's bed and chanted.

Madam Song would also massage her daughter's legs and arms from time to time, occasionally leaning forward to speak to her.

"I know you are a very strong woman. There are many people out there who need your help. You have to wake up soon."

Madam Song said her daughter had called her from Hong Kong a day before the incident. "She said she went to Lantau Island and she would be heading home on Monday or Tuesday. But on Sunday, she met with the mishap."

In all, 25 people were injured, seven critically, in the fire. Miss Zhang, an account director at events marketing agency George P. Johnson, is the only one still in a coma. Her three friends with her in the guest house were also taken to hospital in Hong Kong but have since been discharged.

Madam Song said she visited the guest house after the fire and was surprised to see it bustling with activity.

"It didn't look like a fire had broken out there before," she said. "I went to the room that my daughter was staying. It looked fine, the fire did not spread to her room.

"I was told by the doctors there that she was found along the passageway, 20 minutes after her heart had stopped. The paramedics managed to revive her before she slipped into a coma."

For close to two months, Madam Song and her husband had to shuttle between Singapore and Hong Kong to visit Miss Zhang. Despite their pain, they are soldiering on.

It was past 10pm when they left the hospital on Wednesday. But before leaving, Madam Song told her daughter: "Today is the 26th. A few more days and you would have slept for two months. It's time to wake up. I will come again tomorrow and I want to see you awake, okay?"

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