Caption: Mdm Ong Siew Lay posing with her husband Mr Chia Yong Liang and THC’s occupational therapist Ms Tan Xian Ngoh
She weighs only 45kg yet she has been lifting her husband twice her size five times a day for more than two decades. Mdm Ong Siew Lay is the main caregiver to her husband, Mr Chia Yong Liang, who is a wheelchair user. The 56-year-old had met with a diving accident which left him paralysed when he was in his 20s. Now, he spends most of his time seated on his wheelchair with a catheter bag attached on his side. Mr Chia is unable to move most parts of his body and depends on his wife to meet his showering and toileting needs. At 48, Mdm Ong suffers from poor vision and weak kidneys. Despite her health woes, she stays devoted to her husband.
It was more than love at first sight when Mdm Ong met her husband some 25 years ago. Only 21 then, she was touched by his desire to help others and courage when he climbed two flight of stairs on his own despite his physical handicap. Love blossomed as they volunteered together, and after six years the couple tied the knot. Since then, they have become inseparable. Mdm Ong gave up her job as an accounts clerk to care for her husband.
In 2007, Mr Chia suffered a severe stroke. This time, he was unable to move his body and could not recognise his wife. With saliva dripping and face drooping, he was unresponsive. Despite his severe condition, Mdm Ong remained composed and told herself she would take things one step at a time. The doctor’s prognosis was grim. Mr Chia was given only a few months to live, and even if he did, he would be in a vegetative state.
“When the doctor said those words to me, I told myself I will not give up. I will take my husband home and care for him. It is my duty as a wife to look after him,” said Mrs Chia.
Every day, she faithfully massaged him from top to toe to stimulate the blood flow, stopping only for her meals and toilet breaks. It did not matter that Mr Ong was unresponsive. Mdm Ong would talk to him daily and wet his lips with cotton wool. When the nurses struggled to insert the feeding tube, Mdm Ong took over and fed him a few drops of liquid at a time. With her tender loving care, his condition gradually improved.
Two years ago, Mdm Ong’s sister employed a domestic helper as her health had weakened. When TOUCH Home Care’s (THC) occupational therapist visited her home to provide caregiver training, they saw a home well equipped with rehabilitative equipment, including a tilt table that supports Mr Chia when he tries to stand and a bright yellow therapy ball that strengthens body control. Mdm Ong had seen these equipment at a rehabilitative centre and did her own research, including making queries and sourcing for vendors through the internet. Mdm Ong was eager to learn from THC’s occupational therapist and continued to play an active role in caring for her husband. Even when the caregiver training ended, Mdm Ong would still proactively consult the occupational therapist on other caregiving issues.
“I like to ask a lot of questions because I want to provide the best care for my husband. I appreciate TOUCH Home Care’s support in guiding me in my journey as a caregiver,” said Mdm Ong.
In 2012, Mr Chia picked up paint brushing with his mouth. With his body slouched, Mr Chia has since painted 100 lovely paintings from his heart. From water lilies to birds to a couple at a pier admiring the scenery, they depict the couple’s love for each other. His first painting which took 10 days to complete was met with a tearful cheer and applause from Mdm Ong.
Recently, THC’s occupational therapist prescribed a new motorised wheelchair with a reclinable back rest to relieve pressure and helped to source for funding. As Mr Chia is also able to change his catheter easily, the couple is able to spend longer hours outside.
In recognition of Mdm Ong’s unwavering devotion in caring for her husband, she was awarded the Healthcare Humanity Awards 2017 (Caregiver Category) on 25 April 2017 at the Orchard Hotel, officiated by Guest-of-Honour President Tony Tan Keng Yam.
Said Mdm Ong, “I am very humbled to receive the award. A big thank you to occupational therapist Ms Tan Xian Ngoh from TOUCH Home Care for all her support. I hope I am able to motivate and encourage people in their roles as a caregiver.”
For enquiries on caregiver or elderly issues, please call TOUCH Line at 6804 6555 or email [email protected].