'She's family': S'porean family crowdfunding for domestic worker who suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm

The family was aware of the hefty cost of her medical treatment, but simply wanted her to be healthy again.

Fiona Tan | October 24, 2021, 03:17 PM

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To see someone you know lying in bed in a comatose state is heartbreaking.

Even more so when you later learn that the person only has a 50 per cent chance of survival due to a life threatening ruptured brain aneurysm.

A family in Singapore is currently crowdfunding to pay for the cost of medical treatment for their Indonesian domestic worker of 22 years.

Image courtesy of Kayley Ong.

Doctor said she might "pass anytime"

Neng Susilowati, a 48-year-old woman from Subang, a town in Indonesia's West Java, was admitted into intensive care at Tan Tock Seng Hospital on the evening of Aug. 12 after suffering a brain aneurysm.

After she collapsed at home, Neng was found to be unresponsive and incognisant, although she was awake with her eyes open, Kayley Ong, Neng's employer's daughter, told Mothership. 

Image from Kayley Ong/Facebook.

At the hospital, however, Neng was diagnosed with a Grade 4 Aneurysm rupture and had to be resuscitated. The doctors attending to Neng said she was in "critical condition" where "anything could happen", and that "she might pass anytime".

It was then that Ong and her family had to decide on the spot whether to allow Neng to go under the knife in order to save her from the possibility of the aneurysm rupturing again, which would likely be fatal.

"We just wanted to save her"

The procedure was a risky one where the odds were stacked heavily against Neng.

It was likely that Neng would never make a full recovery, in fact it was possible that Neng might never regain her consciousness, or even if she does, she might be in a vegetative state.

This was despite Neng's relatively clean medical record, where she had no prior medical conditions, according to Ong.

The procedure was also costly.

Nevertheless, Ong and her family were undeterred by the potentially hefty medical bills and slim odds of her making a full recovery.

All they wanted at the moment was to "save her life".

"We were aware of the high cost, but at that moment we just wanted to save her life. We just wanted her to come back as healthy as she could.

This all came as a shock, it was traumatising and left us in despair. We are no doubt stressed about the cost due to the occasional reminders from the doctors, business offices and social workers."

"She's family"

Before the incident happened, Neng was in the midst of getting ready for her own retirement.

Neng, who came to Ong's family in 1999 -- when Ong was only five years old -- was her family's sole breadwinner. With her husband having left the picture early on, Neng was solely responsible for her ageing parents and her then seven-year-old daughter.

Neng with Ong and her sibling. Image courtesy of Kayley Ong.

In those 22 years, Ong shared that Neng would send "every single cent" she earned to her family, hardly ever keeping any for herself. It was not until recently at least, after her parents has passed on, that Neng started paying attention to herself, and setting aside some money to go towards her retirement.

Over the past two decades, Neng had grown to become an integral part of the family, Ong said.

She added that Neng was "just like a mother" to her and her siblings, "a best friend, and a sister" to her parents, and "nothing less than a family member" to her cousins and relatives.

"She's a part of us since day one. She's been with us through good, or bad times, and [through] every milestone. Laughs with us, worries with us, she has witnessed it all. It's safe to say that she's family."

Neng with Ong and her sibling. (Image courtesy of Kayley Ong)

Neng with Ong's sibling. (Image courtesy of Kayley Ong)

Outside of Ong's family, Neng was also "well-loved by everyone". Their neighbours described Neng as "kind, friendly, always smiling and greeting them", and "most [people] in the neighbourhood knows Neng", Ong added.

Neng, who also goes by "Ah-Neng" or "Ah-Ka" with those close to her, "never had trouble getting along with anyone" since day one, even conversing in Mandarin with others, Ong said.

"I am a fighter"

In fact, the first words that Neng uttered coherently after her operation was in Mandarin and in response to Ong, who was visiting her when physical visitation was still allowed. She said at the time: "woshi fighter (I am a fighter)."

While Neng was deemed clinically stable -- she was able to open her eyes within a few days from her surgery -- Ong disclosed that she was not immediately aware of her surroundings, nor was she responsive to the assortment of audio stimuli that Ong would play by her bedside.

This included voice calls with Ong and her family, Neng's friends and family, a stream of recorded words of encouragement, and even the salat (a daily prayer ritual performed by muslims).

As a temporary measure, an external ventricular drain (EVD) was inserted into Neng's skull to drain the fluid in order to relieve some of the fluid's pressure on her brain.

The EVD was replaced by a ventriculoperitoneal shunt (VP shunt) eventually at the end of August 2021. The VP shunt helps to regulate the fluids in her brain. Following the procedure, Neng started displaying marked improvements, said Ong.

Bit by bit, Neng became more aware of her surroundings, regained her ability to respond and speak coherently, and even her physical strength.

However, Neng's journey had not always been smooth sailing, and she had to be transferred in and out of different wards numerous times. She underwent multiple surgical procedures during her recovery process as well, shared Ong.

Pull through

Even then, Neng's recovery had astounded Ong and her family, who "were surprised that she pulled through".

Ong shared that a possible reason could be Neng's naturally jovial disposition. She said, "[Perhaps] what helped Neng throughout [the process] was her optimism and her willpower."

Neng had a naturally "warm" personality, said Ong. Image courtesy of Kayley Ong.

Neng on a voice call with Ong's family on Oct. 21. Image courtesy of Kayley Ong.

That, coupled with Neng's dedicated and "specialised neuro-rehab", an extensive four week long speech and occupational therapy, as well as Neng's VP shunt, helped aid Neng's recovery process, Ong said.

While Neng's "safety awareness" and short-term memory recall might still not be up to par, Neng does not seem to have suffered any other lasting physical and mental damage due to her ruptured brain aneurysm, according to Ong.

Ong further shared that while she has not seen Neng in person since visitation restrictions kicked in, she shared that Neng appears to be more child-like while communicating with her.

"The medical team is hopeful for her improvement upon rehabilitation with a physiotherapist, occupational and speech therapist in place."

Hefty medical bill

Neng is currently on the mend and making improvements daily, but Neng's care and treatment has racked up a hefty bill, which Ong said was too much for the family to bear.

From documents seen by Mothership, Neng's current bill stands at S$135,110.60 and counting.

Ong disclosed that Neng's insurance only covers up to SS15,000 of the bill, while the combined savings of the entire Ong family only adds up to around a quarter of the outstanding amount.

This drove her to crowdfunding platform Give.asia to appeal for donations, and raise the amount needed to not only pay the medical bill, but also to allow her to receive continued care and treatment back in Indonesia.

"We just want her to be able to go back home and live a normal life with her family," Ong said.

While Neng had hoped to see Ong get married, and Ong's brother graduate from university, she has agreed to return to her home country.

"She will need to be repatriated back with her family members as doctors believe she will heal better around her family members and their support as soon as she has stabilised and is able to travel by air."

It was a decision she took reluctantly, for it was hard to part with the family she had spent almost half her life with.

Image courtesy of Kayley Ong.

With the help of the Indonesian Embassy and the social workers at the Centre of Domestic Employees, Neng is set to return home and reunite with her family by the end of the month, said Ong.

Ong said that should Neng wish to return to Singapore for a visit in the future, her family would personally pay for her flight tickets.

Quotes have been edited for clarity.

Top images courtesy of Kayley Ong & from Neng's Give.asia page.

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