The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2015 award

No blood ties but 'I see them as my parents'

Madam Noriza A. Mansor got to know a 76-year-old after helping him when he soiled himself while out with his wheelchair-bound wife.
Madam Noriza A. Mansor got to know a 76-year-old after helping him when he soiled himself while out with his wheelchair-bound wife.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

In a nursing home ward, Mr Tan Soy Yong, 76, lay listlessly in bed. But when Madam Noriza A. Mansor walked into the room, his face lit up and he raised a hand in greeting.

The 50-year-old bedsheet promoter is no blood relation of Mr Tan's but, for more than a year, she has spent most of her days off looking after him.

Their relationship started in October last year when she helped Mr Tan, who had soiled himself while buying groceries with his wheelchair-bound wife.

Others in the Toa Payoh supermarket recoiled from the old man and the stench. But Madam Noriza not only bought him a new pair of shorts but also knelt to wipe faeces off his legs.

Since then, she has spent nearly all of her days off - she usually gets only one rest day a week, if at all - visiting Mr Tan.

In the first half of the year, when he was living in a three-room flat in Potong Pasir, she took food to him, did the household chores and cleaned him up as he has poor bowel control.

Whenever possible, she also took him by taxi to see his wife, Madam Lee Bee Yian, also 76. She was warded at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital for cancer at the start of the year and later moved to a nursing home in Paya Lebar.

Madam Noriza, a single mother with five children aged 11 to 26, said of the couple: "I see them as my parents." She herself was orphaned when she was 21.

In July, Mr Tan wandered out of his flat and did not return. Madam Noriza said he was later found by the police by the roadside, asleep in his wheelchair. Asked for his address, he could not remember.

He was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, where he was diagnosed with dementia.

For three weeks, Madam Noriza knocked on the door of an empty flat. "I stood on tiptoe to look through the window and shouted his name," she recalled. "I was scared that he had fallen."

Neighbours told her that he was no longer at home.She tried to call his social workers but was bounced around; she finally tracked him down at the hospital.

After being discharged from hospital around September, Mr Tan stayed in a Buangkok nursing home.

Now he has been reunited with his wife at another home in Serangoon. They are warded near each other.

It is understood that Mr Tan's stay at the home is supported by his sister, who lives in Brunei and was contacted by social workers after his hospitalisation.

Said Madam Noriza: "I'm very happy that they (Mr Tan and Madam Lee) can be together in the same place. I'm now also able to visit both of them at the same time."

When The Straits Times accompanied her to visit the couple last week, she chatted with them in a mix of Hokkien and Malay while they tucked into the fried noodles and chicken wings she had brought for them.

It had been three weeks since she last saw Mr Tan. Madam Noriza explained: "I didn't have any days off because we were so busy with roadshows."

Looking down fondly at the old man lying in bed, she said: "I'm so happy to see him again. He's lost weight, though."

Asked if she would keep visiting the couple now that they have full-time care, she said: "Of course. It's harder now because I don't have so many days off and they are very far from where I live, in Tampines.

"But I will always make time for them. How can I not?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2015, with the headline 'No blood ties but 'I see them as my parents''. Print Edition | Subscribe