Patients who ask Mary Chen what she does at Beacon Hospital do a double take when she gives them a straight answer. When they find their tongue, the usual reaction is, “Haah? Founder ah?” Then, to emphasise their incredulity, they add that she could pass for their neighbour.
The homely association is not surprising as those warded at the cancer specialist hospital would have met executive director Chen as she goes on her daily rounds after office hours, to chat with and comfort patients, often lending them a shoulder to cry on.
“People cry because they can see we really help, not just talk. It is very important for patients to have peace. I always tell my staff to treat all of them like their brother, sister, mother or father. If we use our heart to treat, it is a different service already. If a patient cannot swallow, I will tell her, ‘Okay, my cafeteria will bring you some soup this afternoon. You must finish it ah, it’s very expensive’ — to make her eat.”
Empathy for those whose lives have been turned upside down by illness makes her cry with them. “Cannot tahan,” says Chen. “They have no choice and I really can’t do anything. So I try to give them love.”
Hers is a practical affection, manifested in cutting-edge facilities housed in a hospital originally established 14 years ago as Wijaya International Medical Centre. The man behind it, Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing, invested almost RM100 million to bring hi-tech equipment into Malaysia to treat cancer.
Chen took over the hospital in November 2010 and renamed it Beacon, as suggested by medical director Datuk Dr Mohamed Ibrahim Abdul Wahid.
“I did not understand what a beacon is. They said at the seaside, you have the light [in] the darkness. Suddenly, in my mind, I thought, okay lor, because when a person is first diagnosed with cancer, the world becomes very dark for him — there is no hope. So Beacon comes in to give light by providing the top doctors, machines and service.”
Chen soon learnt that the best equipment is of little use to those who cannot afford to pay. “The poor patients told me, ‘You have everything [that is] top, top, top but they are not relevant to us’. So I came up with corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes so they can have the same high-quality treatment as the rich.
“I’m a Christian and I can say God has led me on this journey together with all the right people. He makes me intelligent, so I know strategy and what to do. No one in our team had experience in the medical line. Today, we can help people and be a good hospital. But it was not because of one person’s work.”
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