SINGAPORE - Ms Usha Rani, 56, was 16 when she started having severe migraines. In 2003, they got so bad that she was debilitated by them. She had difficulty forming sentences and remembering things.
Doctors diagnosed a brain haemorrhage.
Eleven years and three brain operations later, in 2014, Ms Usha faced another life-threatening challenge - a pre-cancerous condition in which abnormal cells were found on the surface of her cervix.
She opted for a hysterectomy and had her womb removed.
Even as she was grappling with her challenges, the teacher at Blangah Rise Primary School remained an avid volunteer with Beautiful People SG whose Free for Good programme allowed her to mentor female prisoners aged between 20 and 50.
Under the programme, a volunteer would build a relationship with a prisoner six months before her release to support her reintegration into society.
The dedicated teacher said: "I love teaching because I believe that with every child I help, I can change one generation. I tell them you can't change where you started, but you can decide where you want to move."
On her role as a volunteer, she said: "I'm a very positive person because I think there's so much negativity in this world. So the little things I can do, you know, one smile makes two. If I can make one (person) smile, I know I've done something good."
Ms Usha was one of 27 winners at the annual Singapore Health Inspirational Patient and Caregiver Awards (IPCA) on Thursday (May 27). She won the Partner-In-Care Award, which recognised her active partnership with healthcare teams to help improve the care quality and experience of others.
The ceremony honoured 72 inspiring patients, caregivers and patient support groups for their resilience in the face of health challenges, especially during Covid-19.
Ms Rahayu Mahzam, Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Health as well as the Ministry of Communications and Information, said in her opening address at the ceremony that while Covid-19 had been challenging, it had also enabled the strength and tenacity of many Singaporeans to shine through.
She said: "For those of us in the healthcare profession, these awardees motivate us to do better, so that we can make a bigger difference to the lives of our patients and our loved ones."
In her address, SingHealth Group CEO Ivy Ng said: "Your courage, fortitude and ability to triumph despite many challenges are an inspiration and encouragement to all of us."
Mr Effendy Idris, 46, was another individual honoured on Thursday.
The father of three children, aged 18, 17 and 14, learnt in 2006 that he had dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscle becomes weakened and enlarged. As a result, the heart cannot pump enough blood to the rest of the body. He had an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) fitted, which saved his life twice.
Mr Effendy was forced to leave his job in the shipping industry for health reasons, which led to depression, as he had been the sole breadwinner in his family.
"My friends had known me as an easy-going, cheerful guy. Suddenly, for me to switch off to this sour mood, they were shocked," he said.
As his condition worsened, he was fitted with a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), a mechanical heart pump, in 2016. But then he found out that two of his three children were diagnosed with clinical depression, a fact his wife had tried to keep from him because of his condition.
Mr Effendy got even more depressed, but eventually pulled through with support from his loved ones.
Encouraged by his wife, the once-active volunteer returned as one again in 2019.
He joined CampusImpact which allowed him to reach out to youngsters from lower-income and disadvantaged families, to mentor and spend time with them.
Not only that, Mr Effendy also served on the executive committee of the LVAD Patient Support Group at National Heart Centre Singapore from 2017 to 2018, where he helped to organise activities for other patients.
He said: "I realised no man is an island. Allowing others to help us is not a sign of weakness."