We have been reading about how she died young and her donated organs saved eight people – that will be the heart-tugging storyline of a film that is being planned on the life of Carmen Mark.
Mark Kok Wah, 46, and wife Ariess Tan, 43, plan to make a film for their daughter Carmen and set up the Carmen Mark Foundation to globally promote the nobility of organ donation.
“We will give all the rights and proceeds of the film to the foundation to make it sustainable.
“I am working on the script with someone now,” said Mark.
He said the foundation would also be a charity to disburse funds to welfare homes and families with children who have arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which Carmen had.
“Carmen’s AVM was severe. Children who have it can be saved, but the procedure is not cheap. We would like to help them through the foundation,” he said.
Carmen was studying nursing on a scholarship at the Nanyang Polytechnic in Singapore when she suffered an arterial rupture in her brain and fell into a coma in July 2015. The 18-year-old died without waking three weeks later.
Though wracked with grief, her parents immediately made arrangements for her organs to be donated. It was a wish their only child Carmen had voiced when she was 16.
The parents signed their consent for the organs to be donated under Singapore’s Medical (Therapy, Education and Research) Act.
The recipient of Carmen’s heart was Serene Lee Shu Lynn, 37, while three other patients received her liver, kidney and pancreas.
Lee, a mother of three children, suffered from dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle and relied on a mechanical pump that ran on external batteries to keep her heart pumping properly.
She said after the heart transplant, she had wanted to meet her donor’s family and thank them for the gift of life they had given her.
On Aug 4, soon after Carmen’s second death anniversary, Lee got in touch with Mark on Facebook.
Although the name of the donor is kept anonymous, Lee, who works part-time as a clinic assistant, had connected the dots and tracked the couple down after reading about Carmen’s death.
She said it took a lot of courage for her to connect with Mark and Tan, whom she addressed as Daddy Mark and Mummy Ariess, but she finally contacted them when she saw Mark’s Facebook posting about his yearning to hear his daughter’s heartbeat again.
“After seeing their posting on Facebook that they wanted to fly here just to hear the heartbeat, I felt sad and said to myself that I should personally thank them and let them listen to their daughter’s heartbeat,” she said
She introduced herself to Mark and revealed she had been reading his Facebook posts, saying it made her cry when she realised how much he missed Carmen.
“And twice you posted that you wish to hear your daughter’s heartbeat. How much I wanted to tell you: here I am. I will fly over to Penang to let you hear,” she said in her message.
“If you are willing and ready to see me, and hear her heartbeat, I will fly over this September. I will bring a stethoscope to let you hear (Carmen’s heartbeat). If you are willing I would like to also say my thanks to her,” she added.
In an earlier interview with Singapore’s Straits Times, Lee was quoted as saying, “I will treasure this heart and live life to the fullest. I’m grateful to Mr Mark…as he could have chosen to say ‘no’,”
“Now, I want to carry on Carmen’s legacy (of helping others) and promote organ donation together with her parents,” she said.
Lee now volunteers at the patient support group at the National Heart Centre Singapore to help patients waiting for heart transplants.
“So I promise you. Carmen’s legacy will live on and I will walk the hospital wards until this heart stops, to be an inspiration to other patients for as long as this heart beats,” Lee said.
Mark revealed that faced objections when he signed the form allowing Carmen’s organs to be donated.
The Straits Times reported him saying, “People said she must go in a complete body. It was very hard for me but I had to do it, for I believe she’s not completely 100% gone.”
“She’s still around in Singapore to me,” he added.
The Marks invited Lee to stay in Carmen’s room during her visit to Penang.
On Friday, Mark, 46, and Tan, 43, met Serene in an emotional meeting at Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng’s office in Komtar.
After two year’s of yearning, it was a wish come true for the couple, who took turns to listen to Carmen’s heart beating inside Lee’s chest through a stethoscope, with Tan and Lee breaking down in tears and all three hugging each other.
Mark, a specialist construction applicator, said: I always knew Carmen was still alive.”
“I feel delighted to finally hear my daughter’s heartbeat after two years, this means my daughter is still surviving, she’s not 100 percent gone, she’s still around.”
“For me now, I don’t feel like my daughter is completely gone.
“I used to cry every night since she passed but now I feel better as Serene keeps in touch with us.
“I feel like Carmen is looking down at us,” Mark said with a choke in his voice.
The meeting received a lot of media attention.
Mark said the reason why he wanted the meeting with Lee to be publicised was he wanted to spread the message to others that organ donation is a blessing to both sides, the donors, and the recipients.
“My mother had objected to us donating Carmen’s organs after her death and we don’t blame her because my daughter was her precious grandchild,” he said.
He said there is a taboo against organ donation and something must be done to get rid of this taboo.
“We want to publicise this meeting with Lee because we want to change people’s mindset about organ donation and we hope this reunion with her and our daughter who continues to live in her, can create an impact,” he added.
“I’ve fulfilled what had been tugging at my heart for two years. I finally brought her heart home today,” Lee said.
The Marks were presented with a recording of Carmen’s heartbeat.
Medical devices company Cobs had come forward to offer both parties the use of an electronic stethoscope, which was able to record a person’s heartbeat, making a good keepsake for Carmen’s parents.
After listening to Carmen’s heartbeat, Tan said: “Even though my time with her was not long, only about six years, she was one of the kindest and most friendly people I know.”
Tan had married Mark about six years ago.
Carmen’s biological mother had left the family when Carmen was about three years old.
Tan, a financial consultant, shared how Carmen had asked a friend to keep her company before she went to Singapore to study.
“This shows that even though she was not physically here with us, she still thought about me and wanted to keep me from being bored,” said Tan.
Even though Carmen has been dead for two years, her presence is still felt in her parents’ home in Taman Hutchings in Penang.
Her favourite pair of shoes – a pale green pair of Toms slip-ons – lie neatly outside the door.
Carmen’s photographs of her smiling with friends and family still line the console tables.
Yesterday, Mark and Tan brought Lee to the spot where they spread Carmen’s cremated ashes, under the mid-section of the Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah Bridge.
All of them cried as they floated flowers on the sea below the bridge.
Just as they arrived, a large school of dolphins playing on the water surface swam in circles to within three metres of their boat.
The rare sight was perhaps an omen that Carmen is free and happy in a better place, and the parents could take comfort in knowing that their only child did not die in vain as her heart lives on to spread a noble message and bring hope to others.