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Family by Choice
26 February 2021

For HCA Star PALS patient Khai, his foster mother Mdm Zainab and her family are the truest love he has ever known. Above: Khai and Mdm Zainab on a trip to Gardens by the Bay at the end of last year.

By Toh Wei Shi, HCA Community Relations

A mother’s love nurtures and nourishes unconditionally, providing her child with a safe haven to weather all storms.

For Mdm Zainab, 69, her enduring love for foster son Khai* is even more precious – because it stems from a conscious commitment to shelter him through all challenges.

Afflicted with quadriplegic cerebral palsy, HCA Star PALS patient Khai is unable to walk or talk and relies on milk feeds through a PEG button attached to his abdomen. The 17-year-old teenager was placed in foster care when he was an infant, but thankfully, Khai has only known love ever since Mdm Zainab took him into her family at five months old.

A Chance Encounter

It was a twist of fate that brought Khai to Mdm Zainab’s family in 2004. “My daughter, who is a nurse, saw Khai in the ICU and she asked if I could apply to the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) to foster him,” explains Mdm Zainab, who has fostered 10 children over the years. “The application was approved and he came to live with us after two months in the ICU.”

When Khai was about a year old, Mdm Zainab started noticing contractures in his hands and feet, a symptom of cerebral palsy. However, the diagnosis did not deter Mdm Zainab, who adeptly picked up the necessary skills to care for his needs.

For Mdm Zainab, the reason is remarkably simple. “We all sayang** him so much,” she says.

Family of Love

There is no doubt that Mdm Zainab’s family has wholeheartedly embraced Khai as one of their own, giving her encouragement and strength on the marathon of caregiving. “On my daughter’s off days, she comes over to check on Khai,” Mdm Zainab shares. “My son helps to shower him in the evenings as well.”

“I have 10 siblings and they all love him very much too. Even my granddaughter will insist on going in to sayang her uncle whenever she comes over to visit.”

Mdm Zainab and her family at the Family Foto Fair in 2019.

Over the years, Khai has blossomed into a friendly and endearing teenager who greets everyone he meets with a ready smile, positive traits HCA Senior Medical Social Worker Kimberly Chan attributes to the family’s unconditional love for him.

“Mdm Zainab has shown that love truly transcends beyond blood relations,” Kimberly says. “I have seen how she would always prioritise his care and needs and how other family members have come to love him as part of the family.”

HCA Senior Medical Social Worker Kimberly and Khai at Gardens by the Bay.

“Khai has grown up to be a happy boy who is friendly to everyone and this could only be made possible with all the love and care from his foster family.”

Understanding beyond Words

While Khai’s condition has robbed him of the ability to speak, it has not stopped him from showing affection towards Mdm Zainab. “He might not be able to speak, but I know he understands what we are trying to say,” she explains.

“There was once I told him, ‘Mama has a headache’ and he reached over to touch my head gently,” Mdm Zainab shares. “I will never forget that.”

“He senses when I am feeling down and tries to cheer me up too.”

For Mdm Zainab, who has devoted countless hours dutifully caring for Khai’s needs and attending school with him, his unadulterated love for her is the greatest gift she could ever receive in return.

*not his real name – photos have been blurred to protect his identity

**a term of endearment in the Malay language