SINGAPORE: Looking at her three-year-old son, Ms Lau sobbed silently as she left home to save another boy’s life, fully aware that she might never get to see her own child again if the operation went awry.
Ms Lau, 32, did not hesitate at all when she saw an online appeal for a liver donor for six-month-old Jayden Chong.
All she thought of was saving him if she could. But there was a part of her that was guilty - was she being a selfish mother by not putting her son first?
None of what she felt then though compares to the overwhelming happiness she feels now, knowing it was her liver that saved Jayden, who was critically ill with acute liver failure.
Speaking to Channel NewsAsia at her home in Tampines, she related what she had told her friends just before the operation.
“I don’t know what made me do this, but when I saw this innocent baby facing death, I knew I had to do something,” said Ms Lau.
Ms Lau, who requested to be identified only by her surname, had lost her mother to liver cancer when she was just 10 years old and knew fully the agony of watching a loved one waste away.
Her family had waited and hoped for a liver donor, but it did not materialise, and her mother died after a one-and-a-half year battle.
"I remember asking my family members every day whether there was a donor," said Ms Lau, the youngest of four children.
“It was a very painful process to see an energetic person deteriorating slowly into someone who can't even recognise you,” she recalled.
Ms Lau had also experienced the loss of a child and could not bear for another mother to go through the same pain.
Four years ago, she suffered a stillbirth when she was six months pregnant.
“To be honest, at this point, I am not afraid of death anymore, and if I could save this baby, I would have lived my life without regrets,” the IT market manager told her friends in a text message before she went for the operation to donate her liver to Jayden.
ONLINE PLEA FOR HELP
Ms Lau’s journey to becoming a liver donor began with an online plea for help put up by Jayden’s mother, Ms Kelly Law, on Jun 14.
Jayden, a healthy six-month baby, and his family were visiting relatives in Malaysia on Jun 7 when they realised that his skin and the white of his eyes had a yellow tinge to them.
A week later, Jayden’s parents were told that their baby would need a liver transplant to survive.
Ms Law and her husband were found to be unsuitable matches.
“My whole world collapsed,” Ms Law said in her online plea for help on Facebook.
The night after Jayden’s mother made the post, Ms Lau came across it.
She decided to contact Ms Law and by the next morning was having a battery of tests done at the National University Hospital (NUH) to determine if she was a suitable donor.
Ms Lau knew that she was healthy enough: she ate well, exercised and did not drink.
“If it was fated to be me, I didn’t want to hold back," Ms Lau said.
The next day, on Sunday morning, Ms Lau received a call informing her that she was a suitable donor.
Her first reaction was to text her friends to say that she had struck the lottery, because “what are the chances?”, she said.
BECOMING A “SUPERHERO”
At the hospital, she was evaluated by an ethics committee, who made sure her reasons for wanting to donate were valid, among other checks.
The risks of being a liver donor was also conveyed to her. Even after being told that she would also lose her gall bladder and that death was one of the possible complications from being a living donor, Ms Lau pressed on with her decision.
She was also told to prepare for the possibility that Jayden could still die even after the transplant.
A seven-and-a-half-hour operation was carried out at 7am on Tuesday, Jun 19.
Cheered on by the success of the operation, Ms Lau took a selfie and sent it to her loved ones.
She was discharged from hospital after five days - the same person, save for a 15-cm scar, and a new nickname of “superhero”.
The liver has the ability to regenerate, but without a gall bladder, Ms Lau will have to be careful about the amount of fat in the food she consumes for the rest of her life.
“MUMMY HASN’T CARRIED OR HUGGED YOU IN A LONG TIME”
Jayden spent eight days in the intensive care unit (ICU) following the surgery and was transferred to a general ward on Jun 27.
When Channel NewsAsia visited him at the hospital, Jayden was sound asleep with his right arm curled snugly around a small bolster.
“Previously, he couldn’t even bring his hand up when doctors inserted a plastic tube into it,” his mother, Ms Law said.
Her voice quivered and her eyes teared up as she recalled how sick he had been, saying that he “barely cried or made any sound” when the doctors at NUH drew his blood for tests.
“They said he did not have the strength to cry or react like babies do, and that was not a good sign. I felt my heart sink,” she said in Mandarin. “Thankfully, now when we show him his toys, he reaches out his hands. He’s getting better, day by day.”
The reason for Jayden’s sudden life-threatening condition remains an unknown.
To stay close to their son, Ms Law and her husband have been staying at the Ronald McDonald Family Room in NUH for the past two weeks.
The haunting prospect of losing her youngest child has been a “nightmare” for the 37-year-old, who also has another five-year-old daughter.
“I’ve cried too many times,” she said. “My husband has been putting up a strong front in front of me, but one of the social workers told me that he cried during his session with them.”
The young mother said she is grateful for the “hundreds of calls and messages” that she has received since making the appeal on social media, and is particularly thankful to Ms Lau, a “cheerful” and “selfless” woman, for doing “an act that is unimaginable for someone not related by blood”.
“When I visited her the day after the operation, all I wanted was to give her a big hug but I didn’t because I was worried it might hurt her,” said Ms Law.
“I told her that I don’t know how to thank her enough for this. She replied that this is the work of fate and we don’t have to dwell on it. All she wanted was for Jayden to grow up healthily and be a filial son.
“I said that Jayden will have to be filial to her too because she is the one who gave him a second chance at life.”
For now, Jayden will remain warded for at least one more month. His parents will be encouraging their “brave little warrior” along.
“I’ve been telling him that he needs to keep recovering because his sister misses him and that mummy hasn’t carried or hugged him in a long time” said Ms Law, pausing to dry her eyes.
“I really want to hug you. You must get well soon.”
Also eager for Ms Lau to have a quick and smooth recovery, she has engaged a confinement nanny to cook nutritious food for her son’s saviour.
SHUTTING OUT THE NOISE
Ms Lau, on her end, is recuperating at home.
She said that she is grateful for the support given to her by her family and husband of eight years.
The company she works for also had no qualms allowing her to take five weeks off to rest at home.
While most of her friends were 100 per cent behind her decision to donate her liver to a complete stranger, Ms Lau said that one friend had voiced his concerns.
“Why donate to someone unrelated? What if someone you know needs it?” he asked.
Ms Lau’s response? “And what if they don’t?”
Ms Lau intends to keep in touch with Jayden, and has visited him and his mother a few times since the transplant.
With all that has happened in the last two weeks, Ms Lau is still in a daze about doing something so “crazy”.
“Thinking back, I don’t know why I did it. I surprised even myself,” she said.
But she recommends it.
“Anyone can do it. It’s just whether they are willing to give it a shot. We don’t only have to help people who are related to us."