On World Stroke Day, DPM Heng recounts his recovery, joins fellow survivors on walk
Unable to speak on waking up from a coma following a stroke in May 2016, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat resorted to scribbling on a piece of paper to communicate with his wife.
And the first thing he asked for? Coffee.
“I have been drinking coffee my whole life, and the first thing I scribbled was ‘I want coffee’,” said DPM Heng at an event to mark World Stroke Day on Saturday, at Jurong Lake Gardens.
Organised by stroke-focused community rehabilitation and wellness agency Stroke Support Station (S3), the event included a community walk, an aquatics programme and a music programme.
DPM Heng, who was guest of honour, participated in the walk with about 70 stroke survivors and their caregivers. He was joined by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, whose late wife Teo Poh Yim founded S3 in 2015.
Said DPM Heng, whose wife Chang Hwee Nee is S3’s chairman: “So I was really quite a nuisance, and maybe because I am still a nuisance, Hwee Nee keeps proof of my scribble to remind me.”
He went on to elaborate on his experience of recovering from stroke, which included relearning how to go about day-to-day activities such as speaking, standing up, walking, eating and writing.
Stroke survivor Edmund Tan, 40, said Mr Heng’s recovery is inspiring for him, as he continues to rehabilitate after suffering a stroke at age 37, while he was working in Malaysia.
Mr Tan, who is currently unemployed, has completed therapy at S3 and continues to work daily on rehabilitation exercises. After noticing a gap in practical recovery tips, he posts videos online that document his efforts and show other stroke survivors exercises they can do.
In his speech, Mr Heng paid tribute to caregivers of stroke survivors, many of whom have work commitments, and are “burning at both ends of the candle”. Rehabilitation is very demanding on patients, and perhaps even more so on caregivers, he added, calling for greater community support for caregivers.
Mr Teo, who was presented a painting by stroke survivor and mouth painter Chia Yong Liang in memory of the late Mrs Teo, said his wife – who died on Oct 31, 2021 – would have been very encouraged by the determination and strength displayed by survivors and their caregivers.
He added that Mrs Teo was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 – the year she founded S3. From the charity, she found “a lot of comfort, a lot of friends and a lot of strength from seeing how stroke survivors also press on in life”, he said, adding that the charity’s work was very meaningful for her. Mrs Teo had also held various portfolios at NTUC FairPrice over her career.
Mr Mazlan Masripan, who suffered strokes in January and May 2022, was among S3 clients at the event. He goes for therapy at its centre in Jurong Point twice a week, and hopes to make a full recovery like Mr Heng.
“His recovery experiences are very relatable, and I hope to make a similar recovery with my family’s support,” said the 60-year-old security guard.
In a speech, Ms Chang said strokes are on the rise in Singapore, with about 9,000 cases in 2020 - an over 50 per cent increase over 2010’s 5,890 cases - and urged Singaporeans to live healthy lifestyles.
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