Survivors reunite with health-care workers

Ms Andrea Lim was 11 years old when her godmother infected her with severe acute respiratory syndrome, or Sars, 10 years ago.

Too young to know what Sars was, she recalled that "I just felt sad I was the only person in my family who had to go to hospital".

She was the first child patient at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, the designated Sars hospital.

But one thing struck her: The dedication of the nurses who would spend one to two hours, three times a day, coaxing her to take her medication.

She remembers especially one Filipino nurse's patience. "She is the person who made me who I am today," said the nursing diploma graduate, who is now waiting to do a nursing degree.

Yesterday, the 21-year-old was among Sars survivors, health- care workers and members of the community who reunited at the University Cultural Centre for a commemoration.

Speaking at the event, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong paid tribute to those who died and ordinary Singaporeans who made a difference.

Mr Lee singled out taxi driver Haniff Mahbob, who made it a point to pick up health-care workers, especially nurses in uniform, after he read that other cabbies were turning them away.

"The nurses were already putting their lives at risk by going to work. It's the least I could do for them," said Mr Haniff, 61.

Help also came from Yio Chu Kang grassroots leader Low Chuan Seng, who headed a constituency Sars task force then. The team visited markets and hawker centres at 5am daily to take the temperature of stallholders.

Mr Low, 62, said his team's experience in fighting Sars is now handy in spreading the word on the current dengue epidemic.

Mr Lee hailed people like Mr Haniff and Mr Low, saying: "Each act gave us strength, and helped us to defeat the disease."

Sars survivor Azman Abdullah, 47, has never forgotten the support from then medical social worker Lee Lay Beng.

Ms Lee, now in her late 50s, helped his wife Jamaliah with the family's finances and would call to check on him even after he was discharged from hospital.

Yesterday, he and his family were reunited with Ms Lee for the first time in 10 years.

The train driver had contracted Sars from his older sister Painah, one of 33 people who died from the disease.

For Mr Azman, the human touch got him through those dark days. When he could not breathe, other patients would rub Vicks on his chest or pour drinks for him.

Asked what his ordeal taught him, he said: "We have to stand united as a family, a big Singaporean family."