Emotions ran high yesterday when Mr Mark Kok Wah and his wife Ariess Tan (right) met the woman whose heart once belonged to their daughter. (AUDREY TAN / THE STRAITS TIMES)
PENANG, Malaysia - Penang parents of teen who died two years ago meet Singaporean who received her heart.
The thump of a beating heart - strong and even - resonated for some 30 seconds, and then the tears started to flow.
They were listening to a recording of the heartbeat of their daughter Carmen Mark, an 18-year-old nursing student who died in Singapore from an arterial rupture in her brain two years ago.
Then, they got to meet the Singaporean woman in whose chest their daughter's heart was now beating.
It was a day of oscillating emotion for Carmen's Malaysian father Mark Kok Wah, 46, and his wife Ariess Tan, 43, full of sobs and half-smiles, at their home in George Town, Penang.
Carmen's organs had been donated after she died, and her heart had gone to Serene Lee, 37, who had suffered heart failure.
Tan, a financial consultant, broke down in tears, while Mark, a specialist construction applicator, said: "I always knew Carmen was still alive."
Lee, a heart failure patient, received Carmen's heart after the Nanyang Polytechnic student died suddenly on July 28, 2015.
Carmen's parents gave their consent for her organs to be donated under Singapore's Medical (Therapy, Education and Research) Act. Her heart, liver, kidneys and pancreas went to four patients.
On Aug 4 this year, soon after Carmen's second death anniversary, Lee got in touch with Mark on Facebook after seeing his posts about wanting to hear his daughter's heartbeat again.
Photos of Carmen in her parents' Taman Hutchings home in Penang. The nursing student died suddenly from an arterial rupture in her brain in 2015. (AUDREY TAN / THE STRAITS TIMES)
She introduced herself and offered to fulfil his wish.
Although the name of the donor is kept anonymous, Lee, who works part-time as a clinic assistant, had connected the dots and tracked the couple down after reading about Carmen's death.
She recorded the heartbeat, and Carmen's parents got to hear it ahead of Lee's arrival.
Tan, who was deeply moved, said: "Even though my time with Carmen was not long, only about six years, she was one of the kindest and most friendly people I know."
Tan married Mark about six years ago. Carmen's biological mother left the family when Carmen was about three years old.
Tan shared how Carmen, their only child, had asked a friend to keep her company before she went to Singapore to study nursing on a scholarship.
"She wanted to keep me from being bored," said Tan.
There was no boredom when they met. Five hours after hearing Carmen's heart beat again, the couple met Lee, to whom that heart gave the gift of life, at a press conference organised by the Penang state government.
Both women rushed to hug each other with loud sobs and stayed in each other's arms for more than a minute, while Mark looked on.
He said he finds it hard to express emotion in front of a crowd, though he has been crying every night for the past two years. "But when Serene contacted me, I stopped crying for a few nights," he said.
Later, after she had composed herself, Lee told The Straits Times: "I believe I received Carmen's heart for a reason. If Carmen were still alive, she would serve her bond at the National Heart Centre, where I have been volunteering for the past few years, and I promise to continue doing so. In a way, I would be walking the wards that she would walk."
She calls Carmen's parents Daddy Mark and Mummy Ariess.
She will now spend the weekend in Carmen's room, in the home where the teenager's ukulele and photographs still line the console tables and her pair of Toms slip-ons lies neatly outside the door.
Tan is looking forward to it. "I truly felt that Carmen had come home. I don't think I can cook today, but over the weekend, I have already prepared a menu to cook for Serene, like pork ribs and Vietnamese spring rolls. She and Carmen have similar tastes in food."