She lived for only 18 years, but aspiring nurse Carmen Mark continues to help others – her donated organs saved the lives of eight people. Her parents Mark Koh Wah and his wife, Ariess Tan, plan to tell Carmen’s touching story through film, to promote the practice of organ donation. They also mean to set up the Carmen Mark Foundation in their daughter’s memory.
“We will give all the rights and proceeds of the film to the foundation to make it sustainable. I am working on the script with someone now,” said Mark to Malaysian newspaper The Star.
Mark and Ariess intend for the Carmen Mark Foundation to serve as a charity for welfare homes and families with children who have arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which Carmen suffered from. “Carmen’s AVM was severe. Children who have it can be saved, but the procedure is not cheap. We would like to help them through the foundation,” Mark said.
Carmen, who was from Penang, came to Singapore on a scholarship to further her studies in nursing, but died in 2015 from an arterial rupture in her brain. She fell into a coma for three weeks, and died aged 18. In line with her wishes, Carmen’s parents arranged for her organs to be donated immediately. Last Friday (Sep 15), Mark and Ariess met Singaporean Serene Lee, who received Carmen’s heart, and listened to her heartbeat through a stethescope.
During the emotional meeting, Mark and Ariess were comforted. “For me now, I don’t feel like my daughter is completely gone. I used to cry every night since she passed but now I feel better as Serene keeps in touch with us. I feel like Carmen is looking down at us,” Mark told The Star.
“I Always Knew She Was Still Alive”
It was an emotional moment for Mark and Ariess when they were presented with a recording of Carmen’s heart beating in Serene’s chest.
Ariess, a financial consultant, broke down in tears, while Mark, a specialist construction applicator, said: “I always knew Carmen was still alive.”
Serene, a heart failure patient, had received Carmen’s heart after the Nanyang Polytechnic student died suddenly on July 28 in 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.
Recently, on Aug 4, soon after Carmen’s second death anniversary, Serene got in touch with Mr Mark on Facebook after seeing his posts about wanting to hear his daughter’s heartbeat again. She introduced herself and asked if she could visit him and his wife in Penang where they lived, saying she would bring a stethoscope with her to fulfil his wish.
Although the name of the donor is kept anonymous, Ms Lee, who works part time as a clinic assistant, had connected the dots and tracked the couple down after reading about Carmen’s death.
Hearing Their Daughter’s Heart Again
Earlier this week, The Straits Times reported about the upcoming reunion between Ms Lee and Carmen’s parents, which took place on Friday afternoon. Following the report, medical devices company Cobs came forward to offer both parties the use of an electronic stethoscope, which is able to record a person’s heartbeat. The recorded file would be a good keepsake for Carmen’s parents, said a Cobs representative, as it could be sent via an e-mail or instant message to a variety of devices, such as on a computer or smartphone.
Ariess, who broke down in tears when she heard the recording, said: “Even though my time with her was not long, only about six years, she was one of the kindest and most friendly people I know.” Ariess had married Mark about six years ago. Carmen’s biological mother had left the family when Carmen was about three years old.
Ariess 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. “This shows that even though she was not physically here with us, she still thought about me and wanted to keep me from being bored,” said Ms Tan.
Ms Lee’s heartbeat was recorded at her home on Tuesday, and presented to Carmen’s parents on Friday morning, ahead of Serene’s arrival.
A New Family
Even though Carmen has been dead for two years, her presence is still felt in her parents’ home in Taman Hutchings in Penang, Malaysia. Her favourite pair of shoes – a pale green pair of Toms slip-ons – lies neatly outside the door. Carmen’s ukelele, as well as photographs of her smiling with friends and family, still line the console tables.
At the invitation of the Marks, Serene stayed in Carmen’s room over the weekend.
Mark said about the reunion before it started: “I’m a little kanchiong (worried). But I’ve always believed that Carmen is still alive, although in other people’s bodies. I am sad, but I am looking forward to seeing Serene, and being able to hear Carmen’s heartbeat again. That has been something I was hoping for for the past two years.”
Ariess said she was very anxious before meeting the Marks at the reunion, which was also a media conference attended by Penang executive councillor Phee Boon Poh and Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng.
Since Serene reached out to the Marks, a chat group comprising the three was set up. She refers to them as “Daddy Mark” and “Mummy Ariess”.
When she finally met Serene on Friday afternoon, both started tearing and hugged each other.
TEXT: Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, Additional Reporting: Lisa Twang/ Photos: Aileen Teo, The Straits Times