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Last updateWed, 11 Nov 2015 11am

Sunday, 16 November 2014 00:00

Tribute to the Silent Mentors

Written by  Tan Kim Hion, KL & Selangor / Translated by Kong Pik Hung

Led by Professor Dr Chin Kin Fah, medical students from the 11th Silent Mentor Workshop paid tribute to the silent mentors, and bowed 90 degrees to their families to express their utmost gratitude. [Photograph by Ong See Lim]

“The silent mentors are our eternal teachers and unsung heroes. We salute them and also express our deepest gratitude to their families!” So, Professor Dr Chin Kin Fah led more than 40 medical students on stage, and bowed 90 degrees for one minute to the families and public. The act of bowing was to show their sincere respect and appreciation!


 
Demonstrating great love through body donation
 
“All of you will be doctors one day. I am donating my body to you. You can cut numerous times on my body but never ever make a wrong cut on the patients,” said Li He Zhen 17 years ago in Tzu Chi Hospital in Hualien, Taiwan. Diagnosed with pancreas cancer, he had expressed to the medical students his wish to donate his body. In order to preserve the body in its optimal condition, he refused to undergo treatment even when in pain. He hoped the medical students would “learn as much as possible to become good doctors in the future and also to heal the patients’ mind besides their illness”.
 
Li He Zhen passed away with these expectations and blessings for the medical students. Despite changes over time, his love has lived on because of his unconditional giving and love. The medical students called these people “body donors” (cadavers), whilst Tzu Chi volunteers show their respect by calling them the “silent mentors”.
 
Silent Mentor Programme promoted by Universiti Malaya
 
In 2011, Professor Dr Chin Kin Fah, who heads the Minimally Invasive Laparo-Endoscopic Surgery (MILES) Centre at the Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya, attended Tzu Chi’s TIMA Annual Conference in Taiwan. There, he was deeply moved by the sight of the silent mentors lying on the bed, giving up their bodies for greater use.
 
The respect and love for these brave silent mentors greatly inspired him. In 2012, with assistance from Tzu Chi University and sponsorship from Nilai Memorial Park for cremation and set-up of “Silent Mentor Memorial Park”, Professor Chin implemented the “Silent Mentor Programme” in the Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya. This was a real breakthrough in a community where the Chinese strongly believe that the corpse must be buried in whole. The community has now become more aware and acceptable of the significance of donating the body for greater medical purpose.
 
In July 2012, the Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya, organized their first Silent Mentor Workshop. After going through a few days of the anatomy classes, the medical students had greatly benefitted from the opportunity of operating on real bodies. The feeling of gratitude further inspired the medical students and the general public.
 
On November 16, 2014, the MILES Centre of Universiti Malaya organized the 11th Silent Mentor Workshop & Ceremony. The young medical students were again deeply moved and felt thankful.
 
Resembling the cocoons in producing silk
 
For five consecutive days from November 11 to 15, the medical students woke up early to clean the bodies. Under the supervision of the Medical Professors, they carefully dissected and studied the human anatomy and internal structures. At the end of each class, the students sutured the wounds and cleaned up the bodies.
 
What these medical students from Universiti Malaya and Universiti Sains Malaysia in Kelantan, faced daily was not simply cold corpses but someone whom they felt they had known for a long time, like a close-knit family member. They have come to know these four silent mentors lying on the operating table, quite well.
 
Prior to the workshop, Professor Chin and Tzu Chi volunteers accompanied the medical students on a visit to the homes of these silent mentors to learn more about them. During the memorial service held on November 16, footage of the donors’ life stories was screened. Following that, and with deep respect, the medical students went on stage to express their gratitude and share their personal experiences with these silent mentors.
 
The medical students also recited a poem to depict the unconditional giving of the silent mentors. They likened the silent mentors to the cocoons that produce silk for clothing, and to the sun, which radiates heat for warmth. Deeply touched, the audience and family members were seen weeping and wiping away tears.
 
Donating body to repay society and medical field
 
Li Qiang, who hails from Mentakab, had mixed feelings upon seeing the images of his late wife, Yong See Mei, on the screen. See Mei was a Tzu Chi volunteer for only three years but during that time, she had found happiness and purpose of life in Tzu Chi. Accompanying her child to the Parent-child Bonding Class had not only improved her temper, but also made her more considerate of others.
 
In April this year, See Mei suddenly experienced paralysis on half of her face. Later, she was diagnosed with nose cancer, and her friend referred her for treatment at Universiti Malaya Medical Centre. When she knew that she had to undergo chemotherapy, she refused and instead resorted to natural remedies to fight against the illness.
 
Li Qiang revealed, “She was still unable to recover. We have heard of body donation from Da Ai TV and newspaper reports and even taken a copy of the consent form. It was only recently when her condition worsened that she asked for the form as she wanted to donate her body. I was pleased and completed the form together with her, giving consent for both of us to donate our bodies.”
 
He added, “See Mei signed the body donor consent form just three weeks prior to her demise. It was as if she knew the time was right and she signed it naturally. I was very grateful that she did not suffer much as she died four days after her admission to the Universiti Malaya Medical Centre.”
 
See Mei passed away on August 27 without regrets. In her final moments, she was accompanied by her beloved family and Tzu Chi volunteers, who had supported and encouraged her. Volunteers from Mentakab made a special trip to pay her their last respect at her memorial service. Li Qiang was grateful that his wife’s lifeless body was valuable to the medical students.
 
Li Qiang’s eldest son tried to hold back tears when he delivered his eulogy on stage. He said that when his mother filled up the consent form, she also wrote this message on it: “Even though I did not contribute much to this world, I can still donate my body to repay the community and the medical students.”
 
My mother turned it into a worthwhile effort by providing her body to nurture the medical students in the hope that they will become capable doctors to treat more patients. The son was able to feel the love of his mother, and has promised to take good care of his sister.
 
Leaving a legacy of love through selflessness
 
According to the late Yan Wen Ye, an 81-year-old silent mentor, “Donating our body can make our life more meaningful and valuable. I hope that medical students will be able to learn from it and further advance in the medical field in an effort to help the community at large.” When Mr Yan was diagnosed with third stage stomach cancer in 2012, he told his daughter of his wish to be a body donor. He came to truly respect the silent mentors through regular viewing of body donation cases on Da Ai TV. When he found that he had cancer, he wanted to reach out to help more people.
 
With his family’s support, he signed the body donor consent form. His first surgery was a success, but in 2013, he had a relapse and was re-admitted to Universiti Malaya Medical Centre. During this period, Mr Yan actively promoted the Silent Mentor Programme, which was also reported by a newspaper. At his own expense, he bought 100 copies of the newspaper for distribution to relatives and patients, with the hope of encouraging them to be body donors.
 
Mr Yan’s daughter cried several times when describing her late father. She respected her father’s optimism, and felt it was a blessing that he could donate his body. With sadness from the loss of her father, she reminded everyone to be more caring towards their loved ones. She further hoped that after undergoing the anatomy classes, the medical students would have learnt not only the medical techniques but also the ethical and caring aspects of the programme.
 
On the screen, Mr Yan was seen on his sick bed constantly reminding the medical students, “However you cut my body even if it was wrong, it does not matter because I could no longer feel anything. But, never ever make a mistake on the patients.”
 
His unconditional love deeply touched the audiences. Mr Yan once told a newspaper reporter that he was a blessed person and wrote, “The seeds of Tzu Chi spirit have spread to every corner of the universe…” This is his hope as well.
 
Radiating loving-kindness in the world
 
Two other body donors, Lin Fu Rong and Cai Li He, hoped that their bodies can contribute to the development of medicine in the effort to save more lives. When the family members went on stage to share, they saluted the silent mentors, as “the decision to donate one’s own body needs tremendous courage and wisdom”.
 
Despite their deaths from sickness, these two donors still live on in the hearts of their family members. The medical students were also saddened upon seeing the difficulty in letting go, and the tears shed by the family members.
 
As a gesture of appreciation for the sacrifice made by the silent mentors, the medical students also framed the photographs of the silent mentors and presented them as souvenirs to the respective families. The MILES Centre of Universiti Malaya also awarded commemorative certificates in recognition of the silent mentors’ selfless giving.
 
All words could only be expressed in gratitude. Aware that Mr Yan used to love the song “Love in the World”, the medical students found time amidst their tight schedules to learn the sign language for that song with the volunteers. In this unforgettable moment, and irrespective of race or religion, the medical students performed wholeheartedly to show their appreciation.
 
To encourage the students, Professor Dr Chin Kin Fah quoted these Jing Si Aphorisms from Master Cheng Yen: “We cannot decide the length of our life, but we can expand the width and depth of our life” and “In life, there is no right of ownership of our body, but only the privilege of use; thus pass on your love”. He respected these body donors as they are the unsung heroes. He could feel the love from these silent mentors for everyone, which lives on even when they are no longer in this world.
 
When the memorial service ended, all the medical students, family and audience members paid their last respect. They also followed the funeral procession to Nilai Memorial Park and personally offered flowers with a thankful heart.
 
The ceremony was conducted in a solemn manner and ended smoothly. The silent mentors were then pushed slowly into the cremation furnace. Twenty-five-year-old Wu Jun Yan, who witnessed the entire event, felt deeply within. He was in the first batch of students, who attended the workshop. Then in his fifth medical year, he was overwhelmed by the experience of operating on a real body for the first time.
 
He remarked, “Medical students normally stood by the doctors and were not given any opportunity to personally handle the operation, and that is considered our practical training. Even if we manage to find a body, that body would be used countless times and for years. If there is no Silent Mentor Programme, we could only resort to man-made plastic models to learn about the human anatomy.”
 
Jun Yan was extremely grateful to the Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya, for widely publicizing the Silent Mentor Programme, which is increasingly gaining acceptance in society. This has greatly benefitted the medical students, enabling them to practise using real bodies. He still remembered being nervous when cleaning up the body for the first time. But he was deeply touched when he saw Professor Chin gently and thoroughly cleaning up the silent mentor as if he/she was his own family member.
 
Through home visits, the medical students have come to know the silent mentors. For Jun Yan, after spending a few days with the silent mentor, he has developed an affection for the donor. Thus, he felt emotional when the silent mentor was cremated. He said, “Since then, I will always help out whenever a Silent Mentor Workshop is conducted. This is one way for me to pay back, as well as, express my heartiest gratitude!”
 
Jun Yan is currently undergoing practical training at Seremban General Hospital. Not only did he gain the medical knowledge and techniques, but more importantly, the unconditional love from the donor. The only way to repay the good deeds of the silent mentor is to ensure that he becomes a good doctor.
 
 
Nilai Memorial Park was dead silent with gentle wind and drizzling rain as the legacy of the silent mentor passed on. One medical student considered the silent mentor his unforgettable teacher. The experience enriches the students’ life and brings hope to the world.
 
 
Before his passing, 81-year-old Yan Wen Ye constantly reminded the medical students to freely experiment on his body but never ever make a wrong cut on the patients. [Photograph by Ong See Lim]   Medical students were saddened upon seeing the difficulty in letting go and the tears shed by the family members. [Photograph by Ong See Lim]

Before his passing, 81-year-old Yan Wen Ye constantly reminded the medical students to freely experiment on his body but never ever make a wrong cut on the patients. [Photograph by Ong See Lim]
 
Medical students were saddened upon seeing the difficulty in letting go and the tears shed by the family members. [Photograph by Ong See Lim]
 
As a gesture of appreciation, medical students gave framed photograph of each silent mentor as a souvenir to the respective families. Professor Dr Chin Kin Fah (3rd from left) also awarded commemorative certificate to the children of Yong See Mei (3rd & 4th from right). [Photograph by Ong See Lim]   As if it is one’s own family, medical students carried the coffin and personally accompanied the silent mentors to Nilai Memorial Park Crematorium. [Photograph by Ong See Lim]

As a gesture of appreciation, medical students gave framed photograph of each silent mentor as a souvenir to the respective families. Professor Dr Chin Kin Fah (3rd from left) also awarded commemorative certificate to the children of Yong See Mei (3rd & 4th from right). [Photograph by Ong See Lim]
 
 
As if it is one’s own family, medical students carried the coffin and personally accompanied the silent mentors to Nilai Memorial Park Crematorium. [Photograph by Ong See Lim]
 
Silent mentor, Yong See Mei (in grey shirt), was a Tzu Chi volunteer. Despite being a member for only three years, she found happiness and purpose in life in Tzu Chi. [Photograph by Lai Nyok Chan]   Li Qiang (right) and his eldest son (left), who hail from Mentakab, attended the memorial service. Even though it was difficult to let go, Li Qiang was pleased that his wife donated her body for a good cause. [Photograph by Ong See Lim]

Silent mentor, Yong See Mei (in grey shirt), was a Tzu Chi volunteer. Despite being a member for only three years, she found happiness and purpose in life in Tzu Chi. [Photograph by Lai Nyok Chan]
 
 
Li Qiang (right) and his eldest son (left), who hail from Mentakab, attended the memorial service. Even though it was difficult to let go, Li Qiang was pleased that his wife donated her body for a good cause. [Photograph by Ong See Lim]
 
Before cremation, family members and volunteers offered flowers to express their blessings and gratitude to the four silent mentors. [Photograph by Ong See Lim]   Twenty-five-year-old Wu Jun Yan greatly benefitted from the Silent Mentor Workshop he attended two years ago. To repay the good deeds and love of the silent mentors, he would always offer his assistance whenever such a workshop is conducted. [Photograph by Ong See Lim]

Before cremation, family members and volunteers offered flowers to express their blessings and gratitude to the four silent mentors. [Photograph by Ong See Lim]
 
 
Twenty-five-year-old Wu Jun Yan greatly benefitted from the Silent Mentor Workshop he attended two years ago. To repay the good deeds and love of the silent mentors, he would always offer his assistance whenever such a workshop is conducted. [Photograph by Ong See Lim]