SINGAPORE - When she was 14, Ms Victoria Quek became the only caregiver for her single mum, who was battling renal failure.
Then a student at Serangoon Garden Secondary School, the teen often missed classes as she struggled to manage her mother's medical appointments and look after her two younger sisters.
For three years, Ms Quek juggled her responsibilities, and studied on her own when her mother was at dialysis sessions.
In November last year, her mother died at age 44.
Earlier this month, Ms Quek, now 18 and a nursing student at the Institute of Technical Education, was lauded for her efforts at the annual Singapore Patient Action Awards (SPAA).
Ms Quek received the Singapore Patient Caregiver Award after a social worker who worked with the family nominated her. The award, said Ms Quek, felt like a validation of her efforts.
"I never expected to get an award, and it was quite surprising for me. I felt happy - the award is a confirmation that I did something right," she added.
Before she fell ill in 2017, Ms Quek's mother was a freelance lawyer. Ms Quek did not want to discuss details about her father.
Referring to her late mum, Ms Quek said: "She was both mother and father to us. She was a level-headed and strong person. She suffered from a flesh-eating infection and kidney failure and we even feared she would need a transplant at the time.
"I felt like I was running on auto pilot, putting my studies on hold because for me, my siblings' studies took priority over mine. They were too young to stop schooling."
She, her mum and her two sisters, now aged 14 and 16 also become closer when her mum was sick.
Despite all that was going on, she passed her O-level examinations. It was while taking care of her mother that Ms Quek started noticing the tireless work being done by nurses at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
Said Ms Quek: "I learnt how to take care of my mother from the nurses, and they even told me I was a fast learner. I also realised they were far more hands-on in a patient's daily life compared with a doctor. That appealed to me."
Their dedication and duty of care influenced Ms Quek and eventually led her to choosing nursing as a future career.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, all award recipients took part in the ceremony through a special video showcase that premiered at TTSH's virtual Singapore Patient Conference 2020 on Nov 6.
Organised by TTSH's Centre for Health Activation, in partnership with Central Health, National Healthcare Group, National Healthcare Group Polyclinics, Institute of Mental Health and Yishun Health, the conference is a co-learning and sharing platform for patients, caregivers, volunteers, community partners and health and social care professionals.