Elderly couple worry about sick, disabled daughter's future

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His eyes light up whenever his daughter gurgles or says something.

He chides her gently when she laughs too hard and tells her to drink up her milk.

Twice a day, Mr Ng Moh Hiong, 72, feeds his child through a tube.

But Miss Margaret Ng is no sick baby. She turned 38 last month.

Mr Ng’s wife, Madam Lau Siew Lan, 69, who works as a dish collector at a coffee shop in Serangoon, takes care of Miss Ng in the mornings.

The elderly couple have been caring for their daughter at their three-room flat at Balam Road, near Circuit Road, since she was born.

Miss Ng, who is intellectually disabled, also suffers from cerebral palsy, epilepsy and a neurogenic bladder (meaning she has no control of her bladder).

But as their health deteriorates with age, the parents are getting increasingly worried about Miss Ng’s future without them.

Madam Lau, who has asthma and diabetes, told The New Paper in a mix of Mandarin and Hokkien: “When I die, the Government will send her to a home. When I think about it, I can’t sleep.”

The elderly couple are already struggling with caring for Miss Ng.

About 10 years ago, they found it impossible to carry Miss Ng, who weighs more than 60kg, to the bathroom.

They now hire a nurse to bathe their daughter.

Since 2010, Miss Ng has been a recipient of non-profit organisation Home Nursing Foundation (HNF), which provides home care services.

The family is part of Portraits Of Love, a photography project of patients and their caregivers, families or loved ones.

Mr Ng said his daughter has always suffered poor health.

She was initially able to walk and feed herself, but her epilepsy worsened as she got older.

At 20, she became bedridden, required tube feeding and became dependent on diapers.

“It was the worst when she was in her 20s, sometimes she would get up to 10 attacks a day,” said Mr Ng.

“There was one time when the doctor told us to hurry to the hospital after an operation because she had only a few hours left.

“I was really afraid at that time, but somehow, she managed to survive.”

Miss Ng’s father sleeps on a thin mattress next to her bed, worried that she will pull out her feeding tubes.

Her mother checks on her every hour from 8pm to 4am, then wakes up to watch television.

“I’m old, I cannot sleep well,” said Madam Lau.

The couple have three older children, but they are in contact with only one of them.

FAILING HEALTH

Mr Ng quit his job as a cabby more than 10 years ago because of his failing health.

He suffers from stomach pains, but is unwilling to see the doctor as he is afraid of the diagnosis.

“I’d rather not know if I’m sick. Worrying is also an illness. What if I’m sick, but can’t pay for the treatment,” he said with a sigh.

Miss Ng gets $450 a month under the Public Assistance Scheme, which also covers her medical fees. Her diapers and milk are sponsored.

To cope with the family’s expenses, Madam Lau works about four hours a day at the coffee shop, earning between $300 and $400 a month.

Despite their challenges, the family chooses not to wallow in self-pity.

HNF senior staff nurse Thiru Chelvi, 38, who has worked with the family for three years, is aware of the family’s concerns for the future, but she is impressed by their positive spirit.

“They have been caring for their daughter very well for the past 38 years,” she added.

“Madam Lau really tries her best for her daughter, despite her health ailments, and Mr Ng would stand in when she’s at work.

“The family, including Margaret, are all very cheerful.”

When TNP visited their flat last Thursday, Miss Ng, who was watching television, shouted hello and greeted us with a wave.

Mr Ng said: “She is very happy whenever there are visitors, which does not happen very often.”

He plans to leave their only asset – their three-room flat – to his daughter and hopes it will be able to provide for her when they are gone.

“All our savings have been wiped out,” he said.

“I’m also worried about her living in a nursing home, no one can care for her like we do.”

He remains stoic.

“To cheer myself up, sometimes at night, I’d sing my favourite Hokkien song, Tomorrow Will Be Better.”

tnp@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on March 7, 2016.
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Monday, March 7, 2016 – 14:00
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