They heard their dead daughter's beating heart

Follow heart transplant recipient Serene Lee's journey to Penang to meet the parents of her heart donor, Carmen Mark, for the first time since the 18-year-old's death in 2015. Please turn up the volume to watch this video.
Photos of Carmen in her parents' Taman Hutchings home in Penang. The nursing student died suddenly from an arterial rupture in her brain in 2015. Carmen Mark's parents Ariess Tan and Mark Kok Wah listening to a recording of their daughter's heart bea
Carmen Mark's parents Ariess Tan and Mark Kok Wah listening to a recording of their daughter's heart beating in recipient Serene Lee's chest in Penang yesterday.ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN
Photos of Carmen in her parents' Taman Hutchings home in Penang. The nursing student died suddenly from an arterial rupture in her brain in 2015. Carmen Mark's parents Ariess Tan and Mark Kok Wah listening to a recording of their daughter's heart bea
Ms Tan (left) with Ms Lee before yesterday's press conference in Penang. Ms Lee, a heart failure patient, had tracked down Carmen's parents after receiving her heart.ST PHOTO: AILEEN TEO
Photos of Carmen in her parents' Taman Hutchings home in Penang. The nursing student died suddenly from an arterial rupture in her brain in 2015. Carmen Mark's parents Ariess Tan and Mark Kok Wah listening to a recording of their daughter's heart bea
Photos of Carmen in her parents' Taman Hutchings home in Penang. The nursing student died suddenly from an arterial rupture in her brain in 2015.ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN

Penang parents of teen who died two years ago meet S'porean who received her heart

The thump of a beating heart - strong and even - resonated for some 30 seconds, and then the tears started to flow.

They were listening to a recording of the heartbeat of their daughter Carmen Mark, an 18-year-old nursing student who died in Singapore from an arterial rupture in her brain two years ago.

Then, they got to meet the Singaporean woman in whose chest their daughter's heart was now beating.

It was a day of oscillating emotion for Carmen's Malaysian father Mark Kok Wah, 46, and his wife Ariess Tan, 43, full of sobs and half-smiles, at their home in George Town, Penang.

Carmen's organs had been donated after she died, and her heart had gone to Ms Serene Lee, 37, who had suffered heart failure.

Ms Tan, a financial consultant, broke down in tears, while Mr Mark, a specialist construction applicator, said: "I always knew Carmen was still alive."

Ms Lee, a heart failure patient, received Carmen's heart after the Nanyang Polytechnic student died suddenly on July 28, 2015.

Emotions ran high yesterday when Mr Mark Kok Wah and his wife Ariess Tan (right) met the woman whose heart once belonged to their daughter. Singaporean Serene Lee, 37, had travelled to Penang to meet the Malaysians, two years after undergoing a heart
Tears flow at heart-to-heart meeting: Emotions ran high yesterday when Mr Mark Kok Wah and his wife Ariess Tan (right) met the woman whose heart once belonged to their daughter. Singaporean Serene Lee, 37, had travelled to Penang to meet the Malaysians, two years after undergoing a heart transplant that gave her a new lease of life. The donor was 18-year-old nursing student Carmen Mark, who died in Singapore from an arterial rupture in her brain. ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN

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.

On Aug 4 this year, soon after Carmen's second death anniversary, Ms Lee 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 offered 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.

She recorded the heartbeat, and Carmen's parents got to hear it ahead of Ms Lee's arrival.

Ms Tan, who was deeply moved, said: "Even though my time with Carmen was not long, only about six years, she was one of the kindest and most friendly people I know."


Ariess Tan (right) using a stethoscope to hear her daughter, Carmen's heartbeat. ST PHOTO: AILEEN TEO

Ms Tan married Mr Mark about six years ago. Carmen's biological mother left the family when Carmen was about three years old.

Ms Tan 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.

"She wanted to keep me from being bored," said Ms Tan.

There was no boredom yesterday. Five hours after hearing Carmen's heart beat again, the couple met Ms Lee, to whom that heart gave the gift of life, at a press conference organised by the Penang state government.

Both women rushed to hug each other with loud sobs and stayed in each other's arms for more than a minute, while Mr Mark looked on.


Mr Mark Kok Wah (right), using a stethoscope to hear his daughter, Carmen's heartbeat. Ms Serene Lee (left), a heart failure patient, had received Carmen's heart after the Nanyang Polytechnic student died suddenly on July 28 in 2015. ST PHOTO: AILEEN TEO

He said he finds it hard to express emotion in front of a crowd, though he has been crying every night for the past two years. "But when Serene contacted me, I stopped crying for a few nights," he said.

Later, after she had composed herself, Ms Lee told The Straits Times: "I believe I received Carmen's heart for a reason. If Carmen were still alive, she would serve her bond at the National Heart Centre, where I have been volunteering for the past few years, and I promise to continue doing so. In a way, I would be walking the wards that she would walk."

She calls Carmen's parents Daddy Mark and Mummy Ariess.

She will now spend the weekend in Carmen's room, in the home where the teenager's ukulele and photographs still line the console tables and her pair of Toms slip-ons lies neatly outside the door.

Ms Tan is looking forward to it. "I truly felt that Carmen had come home. I don't think I can cook today, but over the weekend, I have already prepared a menu to cook for Serene, like pork ribs and Vietnamese spring rolls. She and Carmen have similar tastes in food."


Photographs of Carmen Mark line the console tables in her parents' home in Penang. ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN


Thank you cards from recipients. ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN


Carmen Marks' favourite pair of shoes outside her parents' home in Penang. ST PHOTO: AUDREY TAN


Ariess Tan (left) and Serene Lee at the first reunion before the press conference. ST PHOTO: AILEEN TEO

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2017, with the headline 'They heard their dead daughter's beating heart'. Print Edition | Subscribe