The ties that bind domestic helper Panambarage Jacintha, 58, to the Lam family stretch across four generations and are marked by two life-threatening moments.
A Sri Lankan, Ms Jacintha first arrived in Singapore in 1990 to take care of Mr Lam Yong Sang's elderly mother and his two daughters: Chen Peng, then 14, and Chen Meng, then 11. When the matriarch died in 1995, she returned home.
But 12 years later, in 2007, she returned to work for the family and played a crucial role in saving the life of Mrs Lam. On a fateful day in 2008, Mrs Lam was resting at home with flu-like symptoms. When she lost control of her bladder functions, an alarmed Ms Jacintha alerted the family, who rushed her to hospital, where she slipped into a coma in the emergency room.
She was diagnosed with tuberculous meningitis in the brain. Doctors told the family the disease could have been fatal had treatment been delayed by a few hours.
Mr Lam, now 81 and a retiree, told The Straits Times: "Until today, I am so grateful to Jacintha for saving my wife's life."
He was jubilant as Ms Jacintha was named this year's Foreign Domestic Worker of the Year, an annual accolade for maids who have made extraordinary contributions to the family they serve. The award by the Association of Employment Agencies was given at a Chinese New Year lunch last Wednesday.
Ms Jacintha's vigilance had also saved the day for the Lam family in 2007. Ms Lam Chen Peng had just returned that day from the hospital's emergency room, with lungs weakened by an asthma attack.
Soon, she was struggling to breathe in reaction to smoke from the burning of incense paper in the neighbourhood. Ms Jacintha swiftly handed her a wet towel to cover her mouth as Ms Lam made her way, through the smoky air of their home in Pasir Ris, to the emergency room again. Said Mr Lam: "She was on the brink of losing consciousness."
Ms Jacintha had learnt the safety protocol to prevent smoke inhalation while working in banana plantations and padi fields back home.
Said Ms Lam, a public servant and mother of four: "Without the wet towel, I probably wouldn't have made it to the hospital alive!"
Her younger sister Chen Meng, 41, a university lecturer, said: "Jacintha helped care for two generations of children and three generations of family dogs. We always joke any other helper would not last a day, let alone a month. They will run!"
Ms Jacintha, who has no plans yet to retire, said: "I will save the $2,000 cash prize for my retirement."