It is ten days since the recovery of our two friends Dr Amin Tai and Dr Haliza Shafie. The shock and profound grief is now slowly diminishing but it has taken this long to be able to write about them without choking in tears.
I have known both doctors since my student days at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM). They were medical officers then and later we became colleagues when I qualified as a specialist and fellow lecturer.
Not many people will know that Amin was the founding Vice President of MERCY Malaysia. When I brought up the idea of setting it up in 1999, many thought I was insane. Not Amin. I remember sitting with him in the operating theatre of Ampang Puteri Hospital and his encouragement and enthusiasm. “It’s about time” was what he said.
He offered me his assistance and full support and despite his dislike for position and attention (especially media), he willingly agreed to support me in the role of Founding VP. He was the first person who agreed to join the mission to Kosova and was fondly called “Jackie Chan” by the children on the streets on Prizren.
Amin and Haliza were instrumental in the establishment of the Oral Rehydration Unit and Intensive Care Unit of Angkor Children’s Hospital (ACH). I remember the passion they had for the children there, the persistent training sessions they conducted for local doctors and nurses and their joy when we successfully set up both units.
Haliza would personally supervise purchase of mechanical ventilators and set up protocols for their use. A year later ACH in The Lancet reported a 50% reduction in infant mortality with the availability of the ventilators. I smile when I recall their photos riding on their bicycles to work at ACH.
Amin and Haliza were there for me when I returned injured from Iraq. I can still feel her warm hugs and wet tears when she held me before I entered the operating theatre. Amin set up the intravenous line in me and was there when I opened my eyes in recovery.
They celebrated life and urged my husband and I to take up scuba diving. Haliza and I got our licence together in Pulau Perhentian and we had many family and diving holidays together.
MERCY Malaysia – and indeed our nation – has lost two of the most dedicated and talented doctors. We have lost our true friends. I am on a personal mission to keep their memory alive in a new project at ACH dedicated to their memory and I hope many friends, family and patients will join me on this quest.
Let us not remember them for how they died – but how they lived. May God reserve a place for them in Heaven and comfort the family and friends they leave behind.
7 April 2009