ST year-end round-up: Inspirational tales that moved many in 2017

A 38 year-old prisoner hugs his 9 year-old daughter upon seeing her during an open visit at Tanah Merah Prison. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
The year 2017 has seen its share of inspirational and heartwarming stories that have touched The Straits Times readers. PHOTOS: ST FILE, INSTAGRAM/CHUANDO TAN

SINGAPORE - Stories that speak about starting afresh, overcoming challenges and the unbreakable human spirit always strike a chord. 2017, too, has seen its share of such stories that have touched readers.

Here's a look at the inspirational and heartwarming tales that trended on The Straits Times' social media and video platforms this year:

1. A gift of life, in death

It was some 30 seconds long, but the recording of their daughter's beating heart was enough to bring her parents, Malaysian Mark Kok Wah and his wife Ariess Tan, to tears.

Their daughter Carmen Mark, an 18-year-old nursing student, had died in Singapore from an arterial rupture in her brain two years ago.

After her death, Carmen's parents gave their consent for their daughter's heart, liver, kidney and pancreas to be donated to four patients - something she had wanted. And so, Carmen's heart lived on in a stranger they had yet to come to know - Singaporean Serene Lee who had heart failure.

In August this year, Ms Lee, 37, got in touch with Mr Mark after reading his Facebook post about wanting to hear his daughter's heartbeat again. They arranged to meet for the first time in Penang where Carmen's parents live.

Emotions ran high at the meeting. Ms Tan and Ms Lee rushed to hug each other, sobbing all the while during the minute-long embrace. It was a poignant moment that deeply moved many readers as much as the people involved.

SPH Brightcove Video
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.

While most donors remain anonymous, the video documenting Ms Lee's journey to meet the parents of her donor highlighted the benefits of organ donation.

2. Granny, 70, delivers food on foot

Madam Teo Yoke Lan, 70, is a "walker" signed on by UberEATS to deliver food to office workers in the Central Business District. ST PHOTO: DON WONG

She may be 70 years old, but Madam Teo Yoke Lan proves age is just a number.

As a "walker" for UberEats, the food delivery arm of ride-hailing service Uber, Madam Teo clocks between six and 11 hours of work every day, or about six to 12 trips a day delivering to office workers in the Central Business District.

The grandmother of two earns $1,000 to $1,500 every month, and her four children are supportive of her job.

Before this, the former beautician applied to be a cashier and dishwasher, but none of the companies got back to her. While the minimum age to be a walker is 18 years old, there is no upper age limit to deliver food for UberEats.

In the 3½-minute video, Madam Teo charmed viewers with her youthful looks, witty personality and funky sense of style.

SPH Brightcove Video
Madam Teo Yoke Lan, 70, spends her days walking around Tanjong Pagar and Raffles Place, delivering food as an UberEATS walker.

Many readers also commented that they respected her positive attitude, and were impressed by how she had familiarised herself with the technology involved and her zeal for keeping active by working.

3. From painting condos to living in one

Mr Mani Malaichamy (in blue) progressed from painting condominiums to becoming boss of his own painting business. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

If anyone can turn rags into riches, it is Mr Mani Malaichamy, who began his story in Singapore as a penniless migrant worker who arrived 20 years ago from India.

With his hard work and perseverance, and encouragement from an employer who believed in him, Mr Mani, 47, progressed from painting condominiums to becoming boss of his own company.

When he first started as a painter, Mr Mani earned only $18 a day, and owed a $4,000 debt to his brother-in-law for the agency fees he paid to work in Singapore.

But in less than a year, he managed to pay back the money he owed, after working at least 11 hours a day and seven days a week. He even managed to save enough money to take English classes and send back money to his parents in India occasionally.

Today, Mr Mani is the boss of his own painting company, lives in a $1.2-million condo in Pasir Ris with his family, and is a permanent resident.

SPH Brightcove Video
The rags to riches story of a former construction worker from India who set up his own painting company.

His success story inspired many readers, who applauded him for his positive attitude in life.

One reader commented on Facebook that Mr Mani proved that it is not where you were born that matters, but one's "individual work ethic and determination to succeed".

4. Moving on after tragedy

Ms Wee Mei-Yi holding a portrait of her daughter Zoe, who died together with her father Choi Chi Man and 160 other people on AirAsia Flight QZ8501 which crashed on Dec 28, 2014. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

After losing her husband and daughter in the AirAsia plane crash in 2014, Ms Wee Mei-Yi could not see beyond a day.

Closure was even more difficult, when the body of Mr Choi Chi Man, 48,was not found until more than a month later, while that of their two-year-old daughter Zoe was never recovered after AirAsia Flight QZ8501 crashed into the Java sea on Dec 28.

Ms Wee was shattered by the heartbreaking news, but with her then five-year-old son still by her side, she was determined to remain strong for his sake.

It was only this year, three years after the tragedy, that she decided to speak up for the first time about her loss, in the hope that sharing her story will help others who are also coping with grief.

SPH Brightcove Video
Wee Mei-Yi lost her husband and two-year-old daughter in the AirAsia QZ8501 crash in December 2014. With the help of a psychiatrist, she slowly started to rebuild her life.

In the five-minute-long video, Ms Wee appeared dignified and articulate, but her love and longing showed through when she spoke about her late husband and daughter.

Her immense resilience in picking up the pieces after their deaths inspired many readers, who expressed not just sympathy, but also their admiration for her strength.

5. Tearful reunion without barriers

A 40-year-old prisoner was able to touch his three-year-old son for the first time when inmates at Tanah Merah Prison were allowed an open visit as part of Children's Day celebrations in October. ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

You could barely make out their faces in the photographs, but that didn't make the sight of inmates embracing their family members any less heartwarming.

Some 24 inmates at Tanah Merah Prison were allowed to meet their loved ones without being separated by a glass panel as part of Children's Day celebrations this year. One 40-year-old inmate, serving a seven-year sentence for drug offences, was able to touch his three-year-old son for the first time.

The aim was to enable the inmates to reconnect and reconcile with their families, giving them the support they need to prevent them from re-offending.

The photos struck a chord with many on Facebook, who encouraged the inmates to use the opportunity to find the resolve to turn over a new leaf.

6. Overcoming life's odds

Para-athlete Jason Chee clinched his first individual gold medal at the Asean Para Games on Sept 22, 2017. PHOTO: SPORT SINGAPORE

Para-athlete Jason Chee had already lost both his legs, left arm and three fingers on his right hand from a naval mishap in 2012.

But earlier this year, he was confronted with yet another obstacle when he was diagnosed with choroidal melanoma - a cancer of the eye.

Three weeks after he underwent surgery to remove a tumour measuring 1.5cm in circumference in his right eye, he found himself routinely missing the ball during training sessions due to the loss of his depth of perception.

Yet, despite the overwhelming odds against him, the Navy serviceman proved his formidable spirit when he won his first individual table tennis gold medal at the Asean Para Games in Kuala Lumpur in September.

"Warrior", "true champion" and "hero" were just some of the words used by readers to describe the 34-year-old's incredible resilience and mental fortitude.

7. How does he look like that?

He may be 51 years old, but fashion photographer Chuando Tan looks nothing like it.

Photos of the Singaporean's chiseled abs and youthful good looks went viral on social media in July, with some international publications comparing him to the fictional character Dorian Gray.

His secret? He eats a healthy diet comprising eggs, chicken and fish in soup, avoids coffee and tea and drinks lots of water.

Exercise may have played a part too, but he told executive editor Sumiko Tan over a breakfast interview that his lean body is mostly thanks to watching what he eats.

SPH Brightcove Video
Model-turned-photographer Chuando Tan reveals what he did when social media went wild over his Instagram photos and shares how he keeps fit and healthy.

While many readers, particularly women, were enamoured by his boyish looks and fitness, some were inspired by his strict lifestyle - his life revolves around his work, gym and friends - and food choices.

One Facebook user even commented: "How many packs is that - like 10 if it's physically possible."

8. An act of honesty wins praises

Mr Zhang Yitian, his wife Cheng Qi and daughter Zhang Jiasi drew praise from netizens for returning 65,700 yuan (S$13,400) to a money changer in June. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ZHANG YITIAN

Mr Zhang Yitian and his wife from China's northern Hebei province were visiting their daughter, who studies at Hua Yi Secondary School, when they received a surplus from a money changer who had mistakenly keyed in the wrong figure.

When the news of them returning 65,700 yuan (S$13,400) to the money changer at People's Park Complex broke, many readers praised them for their honesty.

"I know many countries don't have a good image of mainland Chinese," said Mr Zhang.

"It's my own country, I understand. There are many of my countrymen who can lack civility, but I still believe there are many more people - not just Chinese - who are kind."

9. No one dies alone

Cancer patient Tay Cheng Tian, who died on Nov 4, was under Assisi Hospice's No One Dies Alone programme. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

While some people live a life of solitude, when faced with the prospect of death, no one should have to die alone.

A group of volunteers from Assisi Hospice's No One Dies Alone programme were determined to do just that for cancer patient Tay Cheng Tian, who died on Nov 4.

The programme has 40 volunteers at Assisi who have since kept vigil for 41 patients since it was first started by a nurse in 2014.

SPH Brightcove Video
He went to Sentosa, ate durians and had an early birthday celebration. Mr Tay Cheng Tian, who was dying of terminal cancer, lived the last days of his life to the fullest.

In the last leg of Mr Tay's life, the volunteers stayed by his side and helped him tick off his bucket list, including having a durian party.

Before he died, ST documented how he lived the remainder of his life to the fullest, under the watchful eye of the "angels" who made sure he would not take his last breath alone.

Correction note: In a previous version of this story, we said that Jason Chee is a paralympian. He is a para-athlete. We are sorry for the error.

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