Penang couple to get to hear late daughter's heartbeat again, thanks to organ recipient

AUDREY DERMAWAN

GEORGE TOWN: Two years have passed since their only child's death, yet not a day goes by in the Mark household without thoughts of her in their mind.

Photos of Carmen Mark, from the time she was born until her passing, still adorn every corner of the family home in Taman Hutchings here, reminding Mark Kok Wah, 46, and his wife Ariess Tan, 43, of their daughter.

The 18-year-old had her bright future snatched away from her just three months after moving to Singapore, due to an arterial rupture in her brain.

At that time, Carmen was studying to become a nurse -- her lifelong dream -- at Nanyang Polytechnic. She had even obtained a full scholarship to pursue her studies.

The decision to donate his daughter's organs did not come easy for Mark.

Carmen was declared brain dead after being hospitalised in Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore for 25 days.

His decision was fiercely objected by family members, who were praying for a miracle to happen.

"At that time, a close doctor friend had told me that 'Allah lebih sayangkan Carmen' (God loves Carmen more). I knew then that there was nothing else we could do for my little girl.

"It was then that I decided to donate her organs. I have not regretted the decision I made on that fateful day back in July 2015.

"Today, Carmen lives on in eight different people," he told the New Straits Times when met at his house last night.

Mark and Tan spoke fondly of their daughter, and showed the NST her bedroom and personal belongings, which were kept as they were when she was alive.

Even her light green flat pump shoes were still neatly arranged at the entrance to the house.

"Every night, I would go up to the attic to cry there while my wife would do so down here.

"Our baby girl's death affected the both of us very badly," he said, wiping away tears.

Mark said since Carmen's death, he had harboured hopes of hearing his daughter's heart beat again.

He had, in June, posted on Facebook about how he would even cycle 14,000 miles just to hear his daughter's heart beat.

What he didn't know was that the recipient of Carmen's heart, Serene Lee, had been following him on Facebook.

Lee, 37, had been doing so since August 2015, days after Carmen died.

The mother of three got to know about Mark and Tan after reading about Carmen's death in The Straits Times.

Mark said that on Aug 4, the recipient of his daughter's heart sent him a private message on Facebook, saying she was willing to meet him. She also sent him her contact number.

"I called her up that very night but her phone was off. The following day, when I managed to reach her, we were both crying over the phone.

"I told her it would be better for us to calm down before we talked further," he said.

Mark said that since then, his wife had created a WhatsApp chat group for the three of them.

"It was just like the good old days when we had a special chat group with our Carmen. Now, our daughter is a 37-year-old," he said.

Lee will be visiting Penang and staying with Mark and Tan this Friday until Sunday.

The couple are anxiously awaiting to hear their daughter's heart beat again, and as Mark says, to cry their eyes and hearts out.

Mark also shared that Lee had almost given up hope after failing to find a suitable heart donor.

Lee had suffered from dilated cardiomyopathy, an illness of the heart muscle, and depended on a mechanical pump that ran on external batteries to keep her heart pumping properly.

"A week before getting Carmen's heart, she had actually asked to be removed from the waiting list.

"But as she was heading the patient support group at the National Heart Centre in Singapore, the other volunteers had advised her against pulling out," he said.

"It is good to know that Carmen's heart had given her a new lease of life and valuable time with her family."

On Saturday, the couple will bring Lee to the Sultan Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah bridge, where Carmen's ashes were scattered.

Mark said Lee had agreed to join him in his personal quest to encourage more people to donate their organs to save lives.

Mark said in this part of the world, organ donation is still a taboo subject matter.

"Just like how our Carmen had saved lives, we hope that we will be able to inspire others to also do the same."

Mark also hopes to set up the Carmen Mark Foundation soon to financially assist those who shared Carmen's fate.

He will also be filming a documentary about his family's story to share the gift of life with others.

Lee had told The Straits Times in a recent interview that she would treasure Carmen's heart and live life to the fullest.

© New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd