KTPH physician from the Philippines has not seen son for two years

Dr Sharon Sarmiento Santos with her son, Sean Virgil Santos, when he was nine. The boy, who is now 18, will be going to university soon. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SHARON SARMIENTO SANTOS

SINGAPORE - When the lifting of the travel leave ban for healthcare workers was announced on Oct 19, Dr Sharon Sarmiento Santos, 41, a Filipino resident physician at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH), immediately applied for leave to return home.

She will be going back to the Philippines next month to visit her 18-year-old son, whom she has not seen for the past two years.

The resident physician, who started working at the hospital in 2012, has been staying with her husband and their daughter, four, in Singapore.

Her son stayed behind in the Philippines to complete his education.

They have been separated for nine years, during which she missed many milestones in his life - from junior prom to birthdays.

The separation was more manageable before the pandemic, when she could return to the Philippines three to four times a year to spend time with him. The closing of borders brought on by the pandemic put paid to those trips home.

Not seeing her son for two years has taken a toll on her.

Dr Santos said: "The pandemic really made me aware of the distance between us. It made me miss occasions that required the presence of a mother."

Her son will be graduating from senior high school and going to university soon.

Dr Santos said: "Although I want him to follow my path and be a doctor, I have not talked to him about what he actually wants to do.

"We need to have a heart-to-heart talk about what he wants."

Dr Santos will be leaving for the Philippines on Dec 15.

After spending Christmas and New Year with her family, she will return to Singapore on Feb 5.

To go on this break of almost two months, she will be taking a combination of annual leave and no-pay leave that has been approved by the management of KTPH.

Ms Cynthia Lee, KTPH's chief human resources officer, said: "(KTPH's healthcare workers) have been serving beyond the call of duty and selflessly placed the well-being of our patients above their own. We are deeply appreciative of their efforts."

After the travel leave ban was lifted, KTPH is ensuring that all healthcare staff will be scheduled for leave. Priority has been given to foreign healthcare workers who have not seen their families for a long time.

Dr Santos is grateful for the opportunity to return home.

She added: "I am thankful for the department for helping me push through with this leave, and I know they will help one another during my absence."

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.