Granting the terminally ill one last wish

A terminally ill grandmother is brought back to her home in Bintangor.

WE often hear the expression – home sweet home.

For most people, home is, indeed, the sweetest place to be. It’s no wonder many people who are terminally ill always wish to live their last days at home.

And perhaps most of us do not understand, let alone appreciate, this better than Hung Sung Huo, founder of Kuching Life Care Society (KLCS).

Through his humanitarian work, Hung has come to know the final wish of most people at death’s door – to breathe their last at home.

“I think it’s because home is a place where they have spent most of their lives – plus the fact that they want to be surrounded by their closest family members. So, certainly, the familiar and intimate environment at home would make them feel more peaceful and comfortable,” he explained.

To fulfil this very meaningful wish of the terminally ill, he came up with the idea that KLCS should provide a transport service that functions like an ambulance.

Hung said the service would to be on standby 24 hours, ready to be deployed any time, anywhere, as long as the destination is reachable, adding that hospitals do not, as their routine service, provide transport to bring terminally ill patients home to die.

“It’s, thus, sad to see people not getting their final wish fulfilled.”

Citing an instance between 2008 and 2009, he said there was a young bone cancer patient from Borneo Highlands who knew he was going to die very soon and wanted to die at home.

Hung related that a nurse helped the young man to request for an ambulance to take him home but there was none around the hospital during the day.

By the time the ambulance was available at night, he had already passed away – without having his last wish fulfilled.

Hung clarified that the ambulance service of hospitals is reserved for only emergency cases, especially people who need to be rushed to hospital.

That’s why hospitals give priority to bringing people to hospital and not bringing people home from hospital, he said.

An ambulance on a ferry to bring a patient back to Asajaya.

Buying first van

In 2010, KLCS held a New Year dinner to raise funds to buy an ambulance. Over 300 guests attended the function and about RM40,000 was raised. With the money, the society bought its first van.

According to Hung, KLCS presently has three ambulances to help transport sick people to clinics and hospitals, as well as for follow-up treatments.

He said so far, the ambulances have catered to the needs of people from as far as Bintulu, Miri, Mukah, and even places near the Indonesian border.

“Our ambulances will even travel to remote villages as long as these places are accessible.”

Hung said a nominal fee is charged to offset operational costs. The drivers and nurses have to be paid, and funds are also needed for the programmes of the society.

“However, if we encountered cases of people who genuinely could not pay, we would waive the charges. Our priority is to help the terminally ill fulfil their wish of living their last moments at home.

“It makes me really sad, thinking of those who weren’t able to complete their journey home. They died along their way. But at least, they knew they were on their way home.

“I think there have been cases of terminally ill people thinking they were already at home when in fact, they were still in the ambulance.”

Hung Sung Huo, Kuching Life Care Society (KLCS) founder

Learning about suffering

Hung said through his work, he has come to learn and understand a lot about humanity, people’s feelings and sufferings.

He pointed out that the sentiments of people living in small places were different from those living in towns or cities.

Citing an example, he said, “There was this one incident where I was personally involved with a team of helpers to bring a dying female patient from hospital back to her home in a village in Sebuyau.

“She was an Indonesian married to an Iban man. Her last wish was to be at home with her children before she died.”

He said the last 5km stretch to her village was riddled with potholes and rocks, so they took an hour to get through.

“When we reached her home, the villagers were already standing by to receive her. They even made a stretcher to carry her even though we had one in the ambulance. Some of the woman’s friends also donated a coffin for her.

“Village folk from near and far were there to receive her, sad and sobbing. This kind of atmosphere can only be seen in villages, not towns or cities.

“Village people are close knit – which is why a dying person from a village would always wish to be around family members, relatives and fellow villagers,” he recalled.

Hung said they had no idea how long the woman lived after that but he would never forget the experience.

“The warmth, love and closeness of her husband, family members and everyone else in the village touched my heart very deeply.”

Hung had another unforgettable moment in 2012, when the KLCS team brought a terminally ill two-year-old girl home to her village in Kabong.

The ambulance could only reach up to the wharf and the team had to continue their journey by boat. On top of that, they had to go into the village on foot, carrying the oxygen tank and the little girl all the way. Half an hour after they left, she passed away.

Hung said the youngest person KLCS has ever transported was a baby, just a few months old.

A patient is brought to hospital by an air ambulance service.

Heart-wrenching cases

Hung has also encountered a few heart-wrenching cases where people showed no concern and love for the sick.

One case involved a colon cancer patient who was only 27 years old. Because he had little family support, he asked Hung in a text message whether he could call him ‘Papa’. Hung still keeps the message to this day.

The KLCS team brought the young man to Sarikei Hospital near his hometown of Bintangor, and the patient hugged Hung to show his gratitude.

Hung said some patients would fall into a coma on the way home. Although they could no longer talk, Hung believes there was, at least, peace in their minds, knowing they were on the way home.

Recalling some of the last words he heard from terminally ill patients, he said one told him, “I am not afraid to die but it’s the pain I have to suffer before death that I’m afraid of.”

Hung has come across critically ill young people who felt they did not deserve “to go yet”, because they still had so much they wanted to do in their lives and for society.

He also said quite a number of people confessed they deeply regretted they had not treated their families well while they were still strong and healthy.

The last WhatsApp message from a young colon cancer patient, asking whether he could call Hung ‘Papa’.

Personal tragedy

Hung also shared a sad story of his own.

“I had a son diagnosed with leukaemia in August 2013. He was only 21. He went for all the treatments – chemotherapy and transplant of bone marrow donated by his sister.

“The transplant was carried out in March 2014. But just two months later, he had a relapse and passed away in September that same year.

“He fought the cancer for one year, 20 days. His passing was a devastation to me. He was my youngest child among four siblings of two boys and two girls.”

The Kuching Life Care Society was set up in 1996 as part of the Federation of Life Care Society in the state.

Life Care Societies are NGOs offering various assistance such as ambulance service, blood donation, and welfare aid to the hardcore poor.

KLCS started with blood and organ donations. In 1997, it carried out an extra support programme by bringing cancer patients from hospitals to places like the Sarawak Cultural Village and Jong’s Crocodile Farm once every two months.

Initially, there were some 20 societies doing this but today, only KLCS is continuing with the support programme.

Hung said the reason for providing this recreational support is that while on their visits to the cancer ward of the Sarawak General Hospital, they came across many patients from outside Sarawak such as Brunei, Indonesia, and Sabah.

“To make their stay in hospital more pleasant, we decided to take them to see some interesting places they had never seen before.”

KLCS is also planning a hospice-palliative centre at Batu Kawah to care for the terminally ill.

Hung said palliative care is one way to help improve the quality of life of patients and their families, who are facing problems associated with life-threatening illnesses.

“We try to prevent or relieve sufferings by means of early identification, assessment and treatment. The sufferings could be physical, psycho-social or even spiritual.”

The proposed three-storey palliative care centre at Lorong 15 Taman Desa Wira, Batu Kawah Road, would need about RM6 million to build.

“I strongly feel this city should have a hospice or palliative centre. We have to be sympathetic to people battling terminal illnesses and such a centre will give them some comfort and dignity before they pass on,” he added.

Patients at the hospital are entertained by a lion dance performance.

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