Brand NewsRoom x McDonald's

‘I’d sit in the car and cry my heart out’

By Uma Venkatraman and Stanley Ho

On a balmy night in January this year, Madam Wee Yee Yee sat by her daughter’s hospital bed. She placed the little hands of 10-year-old girl Ern Qi in her own. Her heart was torn to a million pieces.

But her grip was as firm as her voice.

“Mummy knows you have fought very hard and suffered a lot,” Madam Wee told her girl who was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at National University Hospital (NUH). “But it’s okay to let go now.”

Thinking back to that heart-wrenching moment six months on, Madam Wee says the anguish she felt in her heart when she uttered those words is beyond description.

“I was watching my daughter suffer, and yet I could do absolutely nothing about it. Can you imagine the pain?”

A bubbly girl who enjoyed listening to upbeat music and being taken outdoors, Ern Qi was diagnosed with West Syndrome, a rare disorder characterised by multiple spasm-like seizures, when she was just a few months old. The spasms sometimes occurred hundreds of times a day, and affected her ability to eat, walk, talk and swallow.

PHOTOS: KOH MUI FONG AND COURTESY OF WEE YEE YEE

"We bonded with them and supported one another throughout our journey"

- Wee Yee Yee on the bond she shared with other residents of RMHC

“The first three years were the most difficult, I was very depressed,” says Madam Wee, who is in her 40s and works in finance. “Many mornings when I went to work, I’d sit in the car and cry my heart out before I could go into the office.”

The disorder also made Ern Qi susceptible to infection, causing her to be in and out of hospital constantly. She succumbed to complications from one such infection and died in April - just months before her 11th birthday on Aug 9.

The hospital stays were usually short. But in 2015, when the seizures became particularly difficult to control, Ern Qi was in the ICU of NUH for almost three months.

For her parents, it was a stressful period. They had to be with their daughter, look after their son Khai Way, who was then just a baby, while also juggling work and home.

So the doctors at the ICU referred them to Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC), which provides parents with a place to stay at NUH so they can be close to their sick child at no cost. The Ronald McDonald House is a stay-in facility with four bedrooms.

Ern Qi had no firm discharge date, and being in hospital for long stretches of time made Madam Wee feel she was “in a world separate from reality”. It was physically and emotionally exhausting.

Being able to use the Ronald McDonald House was a great help as it offers caregivers respite, she says. “For our child’s healing, it was important to be near her. She felt comforted by our presence almost throughout the day.”

She adds that RMHC provides a soothing and comforting space for parents to rest and recharge, and focus on their child.

“We could rest our tired bodies, and I was also able to work and take care of Ern Qi at the same time. Parents who are well rested feel more positive and happier, and the child can feel it, too.”

She and her husband – business development manager Thim Chun Hong – also drew strength from other families at the Ronald McDonald House who were in a similar situation as them.

“We bonded with them and supported one another throughout our journey,” says Madam Wee. Some of them have since become close friends of the family.

Ern Qi may have left the family for a few months now, but her memory lives on strong.

At night, in their five-room executive apartment at Jurong West, the couple and their 6-year-old son Khai Way often flip through several photo albums of Ern Qi while sitting on her bed. Her favourite soft toys are still on it.

“I miss jie jie,” Khai Way mumbles as he caresses a photo of his late sister adoringly, while his mother turns away, choking back tears.

But Madam Wee takes comfort in knowing that her child is in a better place, and free from further suffering.

“Be grateful and thankful for everything,” she says. “Whatever happens, always believe there is a good reason for it. Ern Qi taught us a lesson on unconditional love. She brought us a lot of joy and united our family.”

Now, the family prefers to remember happy memories “like the smile on Ern Qi’s face, which told us that she knew we loved her”, says Madam Wee.

Madam Wee and her husband also drew strength from and bonded with other families at the Ronald McDonald House who were in a similar situation as them.

 

The first Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) was set up in 1984 in memory of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, who believed in giving back to the community.

In Singapore, two core RMHC programmes support the RMHC cause and keep families close to their sick children:

  • Ronald McDonald House at NUH – it has served close to 700 families to date
  • Ronald McDonald Family Room at NUH and IMH – collectively, these have served close to 2,300 families to date

McDonald’s director of brand communications and customer care Linda Ming says: “RMHC remains McDonald’s charity of choice. We will continue to do all we can to care for and support families and their sick children here in Singapore.”

You can help support RMHC Singapore by donating via the self-ordering kiosk at McDonald’s. Choose to round up your bill or pick a donation amount.

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