SINGAPORE – Unable to speak after waking up from a coma following a stroke in May 2016, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat resorted to scribbling on a piece of paper to communicate with his wife.
“I have been drinking coffee my whole life, and the first thing I scribbled was ‘I want coffee’,” said Mr Heng at an event to mark World Stroke Day on Saturday at Jurong Lake Gardens.
Organised by stroke-focused community rehabilitation and wellness agency Stroke Support Station (S3), the event included a community walk, an aquatics programme and a music programme.
Mr Heng, who was guest of honour, participated in the walk with about 70 stroke survivors and their caregivers. He was joined by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, whose late wife Teo Poh Yim founded S3 in 2015.
Referencing his scribbled coffee note, Mr Heng – whose wife Chang Hwee Nee is the chairman of S3 – said: “So I was really quite a nuisance, and maybe because I am still a nuisance, Hwee Nee keeps proof of my scribble to remind me.”
He went on to elaborate on his recovery experience, which included relearning how to go about day-to-day activities such as speaking, standing up, walking, eating and writing.
Stroke survivor Edmund Tan, 40, said Mr Heng’s recovery is inspiring to him, as he continues to rehabilitate after suffering a stroke at age 37, while he was working in Malaysia.
Mr Tan, who is currently unemployed, has completed therapy at S3 and continues to work daily on his rehabilitation exercises.
After noticing a gap in practical recovery tips, he posts videos online that document his efforts and show other stroke survivors the exercises they can do.
In his speech, Mr Heng paid tribute to caregivers of stroke survivors, many of whom also have work commitments and are “burning at both ends of the candle”.
Rehabilitation is very demanding on patients, and perhaps even more so on caregivers, he added, calling for greater community support for caregivers.
SM Teo, who was presented a painting by stroke survivor and mouth painter Chia Yong Liang in memory of the late Mrs Teo, said his wife – who died on Oct 31, 2021 – would have been very encouraged by the determination and strength displayed by survivors and their caregivers.
He added that Mrs Teo was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 – the year she founded S3. Through the charity, she found “a lot of comfort, a lot of friends and a lot of strength from seeing how stroke survivors also press on in life”, he said, adding that the charity’s work was very meaningful for her.
Mrs Teo also held various portfolios at FairPrice over her career.
Mr Mazlan Masripan, who suffered strokes in January and May 2022, was among S3 clients at the event.
He goes for therapy at its centre in Jurong Point twice a week, and hopes to make a full recovery like Mr Heng.
“His recovery experiences are very relatable, and I hope to make a similar recovery with my family’s support,” said the 60-year-old security guard.
In a speech, Ms Chang said strokes are on the rise in Singapore, with about 9,000 cases in 2020. This is a more than 50 per cent increase over 2010’s 5,890 cases, and she urged Singaporeans to lead healthy lifestyles.
Separately, on Saturday afternoon, Minister of State for Home Affairs Sun Xueling flagged off 700 people wearing superhero masks at Bayfront Event Space for its annual walk to raise awareness of stroke and support stroke survivors and caregivers.
This year, the walk, organised by Singapore National Stroke Association, aimed to set a record in the Singapore Book of Records for the Largest Mass Walk Wearing Superhero Masks.
The organisers said that the theme also aims to empower more members of the public to become “superheroes” themselves by recognising stroke symptoms and saving lives.
As a sign of support for the stroke community, 17 buildings and landmarks were lit up in blue on Saturday evening, including Marina Bay Sands, the National Gallery Singapore and the Singapore Flyer.
- Additional Reporting by Syarafana Shafeeq