TURN a loss to a gift – these are words used to describe the final wishes of silent mentors.
I had heard of silent mentors a few years ago but never really understood what they were until my father-in-law passed away on Jan 10 this year.
Initiated by Dharma Master Cheng Yen from Taiwan at Tzu Chi University in 2002, the Silent Mentor Programme provides training in surgical skills to medical professionals and also cultivates a sense of compassion among medical students and junior doctors. The programme was adopted by Universiti Malaya in 2012.
Dharma Master Cheng Yen once said, “the greatest suffering in life is illness, and if doctors can save more lives by learning from our donated bodies, that would be of great worth.”
It is important to note the difference between the general organ donation programmes and the silent mentor body donation. With the latter, students and doctors would get to know the donors (mentors) by getting their personal information through home visits and interviews.
My late father-in-law first came to know of the Silent Mentor Programme through my husband. It was exactly two years ago that my husband discussed with his parents the subject of donating their bodies for medical research after their death. At that time, my father in-law had been diagnosed with Stage 2 Parkinson’s Disease. As it was second nature to him to be selfless and charitable, he was very receptive to the idea of being part of the programme. He and my mother-in-law subsequently made their pledges to join the programme on April 25, 2017.
When I asked him to pen down some last words for the medical students, he only had this to say: “When a person has passed on, what he is left with in this world is just an empty shell. Therefore, it is my hope that my body will be put to good use for medical research purposes, particularly in surgical simulation training.”
On Feb 24, a month after he passed away, we were visited by a group of nine medical students together with a few of the programme’s committee members. During the scheduled home visit, I was very impressed with the students’ eagerness to learn about the hobbies, accomplishments and medical history of their assigned silent mentor.
It was during this interview session that we were briefed on the 26th Silent Mentor Workshop and Ceremony that was to be held from April 9 to 14.
Although the families of all the silent mentors only attended three days of the workshop, I personally stayed until the end and found the last day to be the most meaningful session of all. It was on this day that the reviews on the Cranio Maxillofacial, Limb Deformity Correction Course (NOCERAL), Endoscopic Functional Sinus Surgery Masters’ Training and the Orthopaedic Sports Masters’ Training workshops were shared with the audience.
Apart from the video interviews and reports given by the respective surgical teams, the audience was also shown a slide presentation of the activities that had been carried out during the workshop.
My eyes welled up when I saw the slides showing how the medical professionals had used certain portions of the human body for their medical training. But my tears were neither of grief or sadness but one of appreciation because I realised what the silent mentors had sacrificed in allowing their bodies to be used in medical teaching. My emotions were also stirred when I saw how well the students had taken care of their respective mentors. They ensured that all the wounds were carefully sutured and dressed the bodies properly before placing them in the coffins.
The students’ speeches, as they expressed their gratitude to their respective silent mentors for teaching them in a way no other teachers could, touched me to the bone as well.
By donating his body, my father-in-law left behind a few legacies, which will live on in the hearts of people he touched. I would like to take this opportunity to thank medical students Indra Gayatri, Juan Lee, Amy Tang, Jia Jun, Li Xin, Kar Mun, Edmund Ooi, Nik Yunessa and Nur Fatin for preparing his life story, the speech, memento and the words they wrote for their silent mentor.
He was not highly educated and did not get the chance to be a teacher when he was alive, but in the end, he was able to “mentor” nine young medical students. I am very sure he would be pleased with this selfless contribution. I hope the knowledge which these students gained from the programme would inspire them to not only become better persons but also excellent doctors.
I would also like to thank Professor Dr Saw Aik, Associate Professor Dr Andrew Tan, Associate Professor Dr Si Lay Khaing, Sia, Mok and all the committee members of the Silent Mentor Programme for providing my father-in-law with the final opportunity to contribute to humanity as a whole and for us to be part of such a wonderful and meaningful programme.
WANG MEI FERN
(Daughter-in-law of silent mentor Hew Mew Lin)