Blind woman's first steps outside her flat
S'poreans, such as this blind busker, offer help after hearing of The New Paper report on single mum who suddenly lost sight due to superbug infection
Madam Siti Hajar Abdul Gaffar has not stepped out of her flat in months.
A sudden infection in January left her blind and she has been afraid to venture out, becoming a prisoner in her own home.
But on Saturday, Madam Siti, 44, finally took her first steps out of her door. She managed a tentative half-hour walk along the corridor of her two-room rental flat in Eunos Crescent.
She also bravely got into the lift and walked around the void deck before returning to her flat.
She was accompanied by blind busker Suhaime Roa.
He had heard about Madam Siti's plight from his wife, who had read about it online.
Last Wednesday, The New Paper reported on Madam Siti's condition.
In January, Madam Siti, who works as a customer service officer in a food distribution company, had a fever for about a week.
One morning, she woke up unable to see.
Doctors at Changi General Hospital diagnosed her with Klebsiella pneumoniae, a superbug that is resistant to antibiotics.
By then, the bacteria had spread to her left foot, her kidney, her liver, her lungs and her eyes, causing her to lose her sight.
After her discharge from hospital, a medical worker provided by the hospital helped her with personal care and daily activities for two weeks.
Since then, the single mother of two children, aged 11 and seven, has had to fend for herself.
Not any more.
After the TNP report was published, more than 20 readers called in or e-mailed to offer help.
TNP was at Madam Siti's flat on Saturday to witness her first steps out of her flat in about two months.
Mr Suhaime, 53, and his wife, Madam Siti Aisah Rawie, 50, a nurse, showed her how to use a white cane to get around.
The busker, who became blind after a car accident when he was four years old, was approached by community-funded group 3R Sincerely Giving (3RSG) to help Madam Siti integrate back into society.
The father of four said: "When I heard about her, I had an instant flashback. The thing that happened to me when I was four happened to her when she is 44.
"When I turned blind at such a young age, I didn't have many experiences in the world yet so I could ease into it.
"It's definitely much more difficult for her to go through it at this age because she knows what she has lost."
Mr Suhaime also gave Madam Siti a smartphone with a voice-over function and a walking cane that he hardly uses.
"Those things got me through most of my daily activities. I wanted to give her a good start so that she can learn how to use them," he said.
When Madam Siti stepped outside and struggled to put on her slippers, Mr Suhaime waited patiently.
With the help of his wife, he taught Madam Siti to move her walking cane in a clockwise direction and feel for shallow drains and potted plants along the narrow corridor.
Occasionally, he would say "Be careful" and "Watch out for the wall in front of you" when he heard Madam Siti's cane hit something.
When Madam Siti raised concerns about tripping over things, Mr Suhaime encouraged her to overcome her fear.
"There are many things that visually handicapped people struggle with on a daily basis, but I told her to take it day by day," said Mr Suhaime.
He also guided her on which buttons to press in the lift as she has yet to learn Braille.
"It was terrifying for me at first," said Madam Siti.
"I haven't stepped out of my house in a long time, but I like the challenge," she said, breaking into a small grin despite looking worried earlier.
She also received help from her seven-year-old daughter, who took her mother's hand, placed it on her shoulder and led the way.
Madam Siti said: "I feel a little more confident about walking on my own now that I know how to use the cane. I think all it takes is a lot of practice.
"I'm overwhelmed by the support and contributions from people. If not for them, it would have been very difficult."
There are many things that visually handicapped people struggle with on a daily basis, but I told her to take it day by day.
- Blind busker Suhaime Roa
Readers offer meals, after-school care
The New Paper received more than 20 calls and e-mails from members of the public offering help to Madam Siti.
3R Sincerely Giving (3RSG), a community-funded group that helps those in need, wants to help Madam Siti reconnect with society.
Madam Zarina Jaffar, who spearheads 3RSG, said: "I heard Siti's story from a friend, who told me she was quite reclusive after her diagnosis. That made us more determined to do our best to make life better for her and her family."
She also encouraged members of the public to contribute.
"We have blind busker Suhaime Roa helping Siti to cope with her disability, as well as all kinds of help streaming in from good Samaritans. We count ourselves very lucky," added Madam Zarina, 48, a student care teacher.
Madam Ummi Abdullah, who owns a food catering business, was approached by Madam Siti's good friend for help. She jumped at the chance once she heard about Madam Siti's condition.
"I could not imagine how hard it must be for her, so I wanted to do my part and help," said Madam Ummi, who has been running the business for six years and has a restaurant at Simpang Bedok.
Since last Monday, she has been providing dinner on weeknights for Madam Siti's family and plans to continue doing so until things get better for the family.
"I feel that it's not easy for her to be in the kitchen while she is still coping with her disability, so I want to lessen her burden," she said.
Madam Ummi also hopes Madam Siti's school-going children will get sufficient nutrition.
"It makes me happy to know that her children are coming home to food that is good for them," she said.
"Right now, I don't want them to worry about paying me. We can always figure something out later when Siti's finances have stabilised."
Ms Elizabeth Chow, 48, director of Chow & Chows Childcare & Early Learning Centre, contacted The New Paper, saying: "I saw a link to her story on my Facebook timeline. When I read it, I was so moved, I immediately wanted to help."
The mother of two added: "I can't help much with her medical condition, but I could relate to her concerns about her children."
She offered to have Madam Siti's children go to her centre after school to bathe and do their homework.
However, Madam Siti politely declined because her children are in student care at their primary school.
She said: "When I lost my vision, I thought I was going to have to cope with it on my own.
"But I didn't expect this many people coming forward, offering to help. It really means so much to me."
I could not imagine how hard it must be for her, so I wanted to do my part and help.
- Madam Ummi Abdullah, who owns a food catering business, has been providing meals for Madam Siti