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Wednesday, 17 May 2017 00:00

Aid for Burmese Baby Born with Hydrocephalus

Written by  Julie Yen Yu Chu, Malacca / Translated by Connie Yew

Noor Falemah attended Sufi’s funeral with volunteers by her side. [Photograph by Julie Yen Yu Chu]

Parents of Muhammad Sufi were so happy when Sufi’s operation was successful. It rekindled his father’s hope to live in this foreign land. He also told his son to join Tzu Chi volunteers in carrying out kind deeds when he grows up. Sadly, the boy passed away one month post-surgery due to bacterial infection.


On a hot afternoon on March 26, Tzu Chi volunteers in Malacca walked along a meandering, narrow path, looking and asking around for the whereabouts of Dust Mohammad bin Mohd Alam’s house. Their question was heard by a group of children playing outside, and two of them, who were Dust Mohammad’s nephews, immediately offered to lead them to their uncle’s house. Volunteer Lim Giok Hong was very pleased with the assistance, as it was a challenge to look for a house in the village with random house numbers.

Upon arrival, volunteer Loo Mei Fong informed Dust Mohammad of the purpose of their visit. They were then welcomed into the house, with Dust Mohammad’s wife, who was carrying her baby, Muhammad Sufi bin Dust Mohammad, in her arms, came out from her bedroom to greet them.

Poverty-stricken family with a baby in ill health

The nine-month-old baby born with hydrocephalus had a thin body and an over-sized head due to fluid retention in his brain. He was unable to sit and turn his body while lying. His mother had to either carry him in her arms or let him lay down in bed with close attention and care.

The couple came to Malaysia from Myanmar seven years ago. They were very pleased to welcome their newborn first child, but were soon shocked to discover their son’s health condition. Dust Mohammad was totally helpless with the huge medical bills – the delivery and baby’s surgical costs – to be settled. The General Hospital then suggested that he approached Tzu Chi for aid. Upon receiving his phone call, volunteers immediately arranged for a home visit to learn more about their situation.

Due to language barrier, the couple was unclear about the treatment details for their baby. Thus, when Mei Fong learnt about a scheduled follow-up visit on March 27, she took leave from work and made transport arrangements to accompany them to the hospital. She said thoughtfully, “It is necessary to do this in order to understand more and discuss with the doctor on the baby’s treatment, as well as, to provide the best assistance we could. Moreover, it would be tiring for them to take the baby to the hospital on public transport under the hot sun.”

Tireless love

That morning, volunteers accompanied Dust Mohammad’s family to the hospital. The Paediatrician, Dr Preethi Muruhaya, told Mei Fong that the baby had to undergo an operation to remove fluid from the brain as soon as possible to avoid further complications. The doctor also explained that the cost to have the surgical procedures done in KL would be around RM10,000.

In the course of trying to find out what possible medical assistance they could obtain for the refugee couple, volunteers contacted UNHCR Office in KL and were informed that refugees with UNHCR’s identification cards were entitled to 50% subsidies on their medical bills.

However, it was later discovered that the couple were not registered with UNHCR. Under such circumstances, they would be charged according to the fees on foreigners and might face legal actions for their illegal stay in the country. In order to help them, volunteers made enquiry at the Immigration Office through social workers, and were told that a one-time subsidy would not be an offence. When volunteers conveyed the good news to Dust Mohammad at his house, the couple was still worried that they would be arrested. Volunteers understood their concern, but the baby’s condition was critical and required immediate treatment.

Volunteers’ solicitude for the family

During their discussions, Lim Geok Choe, CEO of Tzu Chi Malacca, advised the volunteers to contact Buddhist Tzu-Chi Free Clinic in KL, which has been providing medical services to refugees. From there, they learnt that for emergency cases, UNHCR would issue the identification cards within a week.

Immediate arrangements were made and on April 14, Dust Mohammad went to UNHCR Office in KL for an interview and obtained the identification card that same day. He and his wife, Noor Falemah binti Nuh, were extremely relieved that they no longer need to worry about going to the hospital and about their future stay in Malaysia.

Mei Fong informed that volunteers in Malacca had no prior experience in handling such cases. Everyone was just trying to find ways and means of solving the problems, with the hope that the baby would not be deprived of medical attention due to his illegal status and nationality. Their only wish was for the baby to be safe and healthy.

Giok Hong, who was present during the first home visit, had given the family a ride to the hospital on their weekly and ad hoc visits. During the follow-up visit on April 20, the doctor decided to proceed with the assessments for the operation without further delay in view of the baby’s condition. Noor Falemah panicked and held on to Giok Hong’s hand when told that only one female family member was allowed to stay overnight with the baby. Giok Hong consoled and explained the situation to her to ease her worries.

A successful operation

The three-hour operation on April 23 was a success, and Noor Falemah happily shared the good news with volunteers. After a few days’ stay at the hospital, the baby returned to Malacca to be with his family. Volunteers immediately visited them and everyone was happy to see the baby’s improved health and the smiles on the couple’s faces.

After the operation, volunteers continued to accompany the family, sending them to Hospital Melaka for weekly follow-up visits, and a major check-up in KL.

Grateful for the help rendered by volunteers, Dust Mohammad said, “I have not been able to work for a month due to frequent visits to the hospital. I am relieved now and can finally look for a job to support my family.” He also told the baby in his arms, “Son, Tzu Chi has helped us a lot. When you grow up, you must follow the footsteps of the volunteers to carry out charitable work.”

Life is fragile

Just as everyone was pleased with the progress of the baby’s recovery, Mei Fong received an emergency call from Dust Muhammad on May 14, informing her that Sufi was admitted to hospital due to high fever and his condition was critical. Volunteers rushed to the hospital and discovered that Sufi had bacterial infection in his brain and needed to undergo another operation in KL to change the infected tube; and the cost would be higher this time.

On May 16 evening, while volunteers were making arrangements to send the baby to KL for treatment, the baby’s condition deteriorated and he passed away not long after. The following day, volunteers went to the hospital to convey their condolences to the family, and to help them handle the medical and burial expenses. Meantime, volunteer Loh Siew Cheng liaised with the hospital on matters relating to transporting the remains to the cemetery and so on, and she kept the family informed in order to ease their minds. On the same day, Sufi’s body was sent to the graveyard from hospital, in accordance with the Islamic burial customs.

Volunteers also went along to pay their last respect. Gazing at the casket, a tearful Noor Falemah was overcome by emotions. Volunteers were by her side to console her and provide emotional support.

That evening, Dust Mohammad rang Mei Fong to express their deep gratitude for the volunteers’ untiring care and assistance. Mei Fong consoled the couple not to drown themselves in grief but to pray for the child in accordance to their religious practices.

That night, Giok Hong dreamt of a healthy Sufi being surrounded by volunteers. It was a warm and happy scene. She said emotionally, “A tiny body had to suffer so much since he was born. Now that he is freed from suffering, I wish to offer him my blessings. It reminded me to treasure my health and get hold of every opportunity to do kind deeds.”

It is really a painful experience to get sick in a foreign land, especially in the case of refugees due to high medical bills. The case of Dust Muhammad’s family is just a representation of the many predicaments faced by Burmese refugees in Malaysia. Transcending the borders of religion, race and nationality, Tzu Chi volunteers have been extending timely care and aid to the sick and his family, and accompanied them through the difficult times. Let us foster a more caring society so that the refugees too could experience the warmth and love of humanity in this foreign land.

 

 

Noor Falemah briefed volunteer, Lim Giok Hong on the baby’s health condition during the volunteers’ first home visit to the family. [Photograph by Lee Kin Chee]   On March 27, 2017, volunteer Loo Mei Fong accompanied Dust Mohammad and family to the hospital for Sufi’s follow-up visit and discussed with the doctor on treatment and estimated medical costs. [Photograph by Julie Yen Yu Chu]

Noor Falemah briefed volunteer, Lim Giok Hong on the baby’s health condition during the volunteers’ first home visit to the family. [Photograph by Lee Kin Chee]
 
On March 27, 2017, volunteer Loo Mei Fong accompanied Dust Mohammad and family to the hospital for Sufi’s follow-up visit and discussed with the doctor on treatment and estimated medical costs. [Photograph by Julie Yen Yu Chu]
 
Volunteer Loo Mei Fong and a social worker contacted Tzu-Chi Free Clinic in KL to enquire on medical assistance to refugees. [Photograph by Julie Yen Yu Chu]   On April 30, 2017, volunteers Loo Mei Fong and Lim Giok Hong paid Sufi a visit. [Photograph by Lee Kin Chee]

Volunteer Loo Mei Fong and a social worker contacted Tzu-Chi Free Clinic in KL to enquire on medical assistance to refugees. [Photograph by Julie Yen Yu Chu]
 
 
On April 30, 2017, volunteers Loo Mei Fong and Lim Giok Hong paid Sufi a visit. [Photograph by Lee Kin Chee]
 
Volunteer Loo Mei Fong helped arrange transport for Dust Muhammad’s family to go to the hospital for follow-up visits and treatment. [Photograph by Lee Kin Chee]   Volunteers went to Hospital Melaka to comfort the bereaved family after learning about Sufi’s demise due to bacterial infection. [Photograph by Julie Yen Yu Chu]

Volunteer Loo Mei Fong helped arrange transport for Dust Muhammad’s family to go to the hospital for follow-up visits and treatment. [Photograph by Lee Kin Chee]
 
 
Volunteers went to Hospital Melaka to comfort the bereaved family after learning about Sufi’s demise due to bacterial infection. [Photograph by Julie Yen Yu Chu]