Cabby who donated liver gets Good Samaritan award

Cabby Tong Ming Ming says he will be happy if his story can help save even a single life. -- ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Cabby Tong Ming Ming says he will be happy if his story can help save even a single life. -- ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Cabby Tong Ming Ming, 34, touched a chord in Singaporeans from all walks of life when The Sunday Times reported last week that he donated a part of his liver to a stranger on the brink of death.

More than 60 readers commended him online and in e-mails to The Sunday Times, and the story garnered more than 400 Likes on The Straits Times Facebook page.

Two organisations are honouring him, BBC World wants to interview him, Dunman High students want to meet him for a project and a dermatologist has offered help with his scar, free of charge.

But, perhaps most important of all, two adult children of liver failure patients who are considering donating a part of their liver, reached out to him for reassurance.

One of them, primary school teacher Lee Siew Kiang, 35, will undergo surgery tomorrow to donate a part of her liver to her father who has liver cancer.

Mr Tong, 34, gave his gift of life to civil servant Toh Lai Keng, 43, in March in a nine-hour operation at the National University Hospital. Both men are doing well.

The Government subsidised half the cost of the operation - as it does for all transplant cases involving Singapore citizens.

Mr Toh will pay Mr Tong's bills even in future for expenses related to the surgery.

Mr Tong is the first living donor here to give a part of his liver to someone with whom he has no blood or emotional ties.

Ms Lee, the eldest of four daughters, said she knew of Mr Tong through a common friend and had exchanged text messages with him before his story became public. At the time, her dad, retired electrician Lee Gin Owin, 57, had reservations about the operation. Like any parent, he worried for her health.

"But Ming Ming's front-page photo, looking so healthy and happy, helped reassure him," she said. "He is much less worried now."

Ms Lee said she is aware of the risks of the operation and that her fate may not be the same as Mr Tong's. "But he is a real inspiration. If he can do this for a stranger, I can do it for my dad," she said.

The Rotary Club of Singapore, meanwhile, contacted Mr Tong yesterday to inform him that it is giving him a Good Samaritan award, which includes a $1,000 cash prize and a certificate.

Instituted in 1998, the award recognises and encourages public spiritedness, said chairman of the club's community service committee Ronald Wong. "We just want to thank Mr Tong for his exemplary kindness," he said.

Meanwhile, Allswell Trading, which represents energy drink Red Bull in Singapore, has made Mr Tong a nominee in an ongoing campaign to identify and honour "Real Singapore Heroes", said the company's director Lam Pin Woon.

"Mr Tong's act of kindness to a stranger is an inspiration to all Singaporeans and exemplifies the true spirit of a real Singapore hero," said Mr Lam.

Yesterday, the company presented him with $500 in cash and said it plans to send Red Bull products worth another $500 to his home.

Dozens of readers too responded with warmth and admiration.

At the straitstimes.com website, reader Tricia Lye called him "Light of the World".

Another said he was "the best thing to happen on our 48th National Day". A third called him a "true son of Singapore".

Reader Sabrina Wong e-mailed to say she wanted Mr Tong to know that "his kindness not only touched the lives of Mr Toh and family, but also touched the hearts of those of us who are kind but not half as brave".

In a separate note to Mr Tong, she said: "Just knowing that Singapore has someone like you makes me feel proud."

The bachelor at the centre of all this attention, meanwhile, lets on that he received more than 100 Facebook friend requests after the article. And although a tad "embarrassed" with the spotlight, he is glad his story helped spread awareness of living-donor transplants.

"Donors must evaluate the risks for themselves," he said. "But if my story can help save even a single life, I will be more than happy."

radhab@sph.com.sg

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