Chan Soo Sen's wife dies after suffering from sleep disease

Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck (left) with Mr Chan at the wake for Mr Chan’s wife, Patricia, who had been unwell for six months before her death on Thursday from a rare genetic disease. -- PHOTO: LIANHE WANBAO
Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck (left) with Mr Chan at the wake for Mr Chan’s wife, Patricia, who had been unwell for six months before her death on Thursday from a rare genetic disease. -- PHOTO: LIANHE WANBAO

The wife of former minister of state Chan Soo Sen, Mrs Patricia Chan, died on Thursday after suffering from a rare genetic disease that deprived her of sleep.

She had been unwell for six months and lost consciousness on Sunday before the couple and their elder son Nicholas, 28, a civil servant, were to attend a church service.

She was kept on life support until her younger son, Richard, 24, an undergraduate in Australia, returned home on Tuesday - two days before she was taken off life support.

She was 57.

On Friday, Mr Chan, a former MP for Joo Chiat, described his wife as deeply religious and kind.

Speaking to The Straits Times during the wake at Mount Vernon Sanctuary, he said: "She gave up her job as a highly trained paediatric nurse to raise her two children. She was also exceptional in her ability to make friends. She was warm to them, helped them and shared everything with them."

In the final months, as her health deteriorated, she was surrounded by friends who looked after her. After work each day, Mr Chan would push her in her wheelchair for walks and to go for dinner. Sometimes they would take the bus or MRT, owing to his one-year driving ban in August.

"I wanted her to live a normal life for as long as possible," he said.

Eight years ago, after her elder brother died, Mrs Chan did a test and found she had inherited fatal familial insomnia.

But she was fine until April this year - after she had celebrated her 57th birthday - when her insomnia started, her brain cells began to degenerate, and she became disoriented, mixing up day and night and people.

She gradually lost control of her motor skills, struggling to hold chopsticks, and eat and stand on her own. Two months ago, she moved about in a wheelchair. "We knew it could happen, but we were not mentally prepared as it happened so suddenly," Mr Chan said.

During this period, Mr Chan, who retired from politics in 2011, was fined $2,000 for drink-driving and banned from driving.

When asked how he coped with the stresses of the situation, he said: "I do not link the two or take pity on myself. When you commit an offence, you own up to it, accept the punishment and move on. Your wife is ill, you try your best and you keep moving on."

On Sunday, as Mrs Chan was getting ready for church, exhaustion overcame her. While she was lying down, her pulse stopped.

She was taken to the National University Hospital (NUH) and put on life support.

On Wednesday, she was declared brain-dead but Mr Chan asked the doctors to sustain her, so that he and his two sons could spend one last night with her.

On Friday, family, friends, former PAP colleagues and Joo Chiat residents came in droves to the wake to pay their respects and comfort Mr Chan, a People's Action Party MP from 1996 to 2011.

Among them were Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Minister of State Teo Ser Luck, former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng and former senior minister of state Chng Jit Koon.

Joo Chiat MP Charles Chong had earlier visited Mrs Chan at NUH. The funeral is on Monday.

Said Mr Josh Lee, 54, a friend of Mrs Chan's for 20 years: "She was a devoted wife, a mother who made sacrifices and God's servant. She was a kind woman who touched the lives of many."

chanckr@sph.com.sg

chinlian@sph.com.sg