Organ recipient follows donor's 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.
From left: Heart recipient Serene Lee with Bukit Harapan Orphanage owner Anne Keyworth, 72, and the parents of heart donor Carmen Mark - Ms Ariess Tan and Mr Mark Kok Wah. The Mark family volunteers at the orphanage in Sabah every Christmas. Carmen (
From left: Heart recipient Serene Lee with Bukit Harapan Orphanage owner Anne Keyworth, 72, and the parents of heart donor Carmen Mark - Ms Ariess Tan and Mr Mark Kok Wah. The Mark family volunteers at the orphanage in Sabah every Christmas.PHOTO: TSEU KUI JIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
From left: Heart recipient Serene Lee with Bukit Harapan Orphanage owner Anne Keyworth, 72, and the parents of heart donor Carmen Mark - Ms Ariess Tan and Mr Mark Kok Wah. The Mark family volunteers at the orphanage in Sabah every Christmas. Carmen (
Carmen (above) died of a brain rupture at the age of 18.PHOTO: COURTESY OF MARK KOK WAH

She continues donor's legacy by volunteering at orphanage where latter helped every Christmas

Her heart will go on - to do more good this Christmas season.

When nursing student Carmen Mark died two years ago, she had wanted all her organs donated.

On Christmas Eve, the recipient of her heartcontinued the legacy of her donor by volunteering at the same orphanage her donor used to volunteer at every Christmas.

When Carmen, who was 18, died of a brain rupture, her heart went to Ms Serene Lee, who had no heartbeat of her own. Ms Lee's heart was then powered by a mechanical pump.

Ms Lee, 37, a Singaporean mother of three, tracked down and met Carmen's parents, who live in Penang, in September after connecting with them through Facebook.

Ms Lee, a part-time clinic assistant, had written in a Facebook message to Carmen's father: "Since August 2015, I have been looking at your Facebook posts. It made me cry to see how much you miss her. I think partly because, of all organs, I took her heart!!"

Ms Lee felt that something was missing before she sought the Mark family out, and needed to reunite Carmen's heart with her family in order to find peace. "I even promised this heart that I will bring her home (to Penang) every year," she wrote in a Facebook message to Mr Mark.

 
 
 

But Ms Lee is doing one better than that. Since connecting with the family, she has been trying to take Carmen's heart back to places the teenager used to visit, and "continue the legacy Carmen left behind".

GRATEFUL

Words can never express how grateful I am, and nothing I say can bring Carmen back, but the least I can do is do justice to her heart.

MS SERENE LEE

Ms Lee, who celebrates Christmas every year, spent Christmas Eve at the orphanage in Sabah before rushing back to Singapore the next day.

Mr Mark Kok Wah, 46, and his wife, Ms Ariess Tan, 43, along with Carmen, would volunteer at the Bukit Harapan Orphanage every year, bringing festive joy to the children there. When their only child died in 2015, the family suspended the yearly trip for the year, going back only the year after.

Mr Mark, an operations director, said: "This year, for the first time, Serene is coming with us. It's like there's a part of Carmen going back with us." He added that the children and coordinators at the orphanage loved Carmen, and were looking forward to meeting Ms Lee, viewing her as an extension of Carmen.

Mr Mark said the family had been going to the orphanage to help out since Carmen was a young girl.

"She had always been brought up to bring joy and hope," he said.

"Donating her organs allowed her to continue to help other people, not just the recipient but the people around them. For example, Serene has three children and her mother to take care of too."

Ms Lee, Mr Mark and his wife, an administrative director, arrived in Sabah on Friday and shopped for gifts for the orphans before visiting the orphanage yesterday.

Ms Lee feels that since meeting the family, she has become a better person. "Words can never express how grateful I am, and nothing I say can bring Carmen back, but the least I can do is do justice to her heart."

She added: "I have a list of things Carmen would have done had she been alive, like spending time with Carmen's grandmother, celebrating her father's birthday with him."

Mr Mark said: "This is the season of giving, sharing, loving and spreading kindness. Knowing that my daughter's heart still lives on in Serene, and will be with us as we go and bring joy to others, really makes a big difference to me."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2017, with the headline 'Organ recipient follows donor's heart'. Print Edition | Subscribe