KOTA KINABALU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Marie Christine Robert has never been one to defy her family, especially her parents. But that was precisely what she did to save a life.
Despite her family's objections, Marie flew to Taiwan, where she donated part of her liver to her former teacher.
Her selflessness saved Cheong Siew Hua, her mathematics teacher when she was in Form One at SMK Datuk Peter Mojuntin in 2002. Her act also got her chosen as a winner of this year's Star Golden Hearts Award.
The life-saving saga began when Cheong, 57, repeatedly threw up after the traditional Chinese New Year reunion dinner.
His family rushed him to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital where doctors diagnosed him as suffering from a virus-infected liver.
They were later told that the liver centre in Selayang Hospital was unable to treat him.
The frantic couple went to the Hualien General Hospital in Taiwan where the doctors told Cheong he must have a liver transplant or he would die in three months.
The doctors said the donor must be blood type O and should be a family member.
Cheong's younger sister volunteered but tests determined that she was unsuitable.
His wife Pik Yin then sent out an SOS to her family's WhatsApp group. Among those in it was a distant cousin of Pik Yin, Marie's mother.
"We didn't know we were related and only realised this when I happened to meet Marie's parents when they came to the school to collect her Form Five report card," said Pik Yin.
A teacher herself, Pik Yin taught Marie Science in Forms One and Two.
After reading Pik Yin's WhatsApp message, Marie, a sales consultant with a property group, was drawn to help her former teacher.
"When I read the message, it was like there was a voice telling me not to think twice and just help," she said.
Her father, a Customs Department officer, and mother, a senior clerk at the Sabah Foundation, as well as her aunts and uncles tried to talk her out of it.
Her husband Chin Chee Ken, a mechanic, also asked her to reconsider but when she remained steadfast, he became supportive.
Amid the voices of concern, Marie too began to have doubts.
"I would be lying if I say I didn't have second thoughts. I thought about my son, my husband and my parents," Marie said. "I thought about everything. In the end, I was in a position to save someone's life. I prayed to God that whatever happens will happen."
Cheong and Marie underwent 12 hours of surgery on April 27 in Taiwan.
After that, Cheong spent four months recuperating in Taiwan, returning to Sabah on July 10. However, just about a week later on July 16, he had to go back to Taiwan for follow-up treatment, staying there until Nov 6.
"I feel healthier," said Cheong, who is on leave as principal of SK Moyog.
"All this is due to Marie's generosity," he added. "She's an angel God sent to help me."