Affinity – it is a simple word that encapsulates profound meaning. It brings together people whose paths would not otherwise overlap, like that of HCA Star PALS patient Phua Wenjie, 11 and HCA volunteer Lily Hoe.
“I think it was affinity that brought our family together with Lily,” Mr Phua Wee Seng, Wenjie’s father, shares. “She has a lot of heart and she is really gentle to Wenjie.”
There is heart and soul in every haircut Lily provides.
Lily, a professional hairdresser with over 40 years of experience under her belt, shares the same sentiments. “It’s hard to explain it, but I feel a strong affinity with Wenjie,” she says. “Perhaps it’s partly because he’s the youngest among all the patients I have worked with.”
The connection Lily feels with the young boy is unmistakable as she carefully places a hairdressing cape around him and gets to work on his hair. She deftly trims Wenjie’s hair and expertly layers it for a more voluminous look. There is a sense of familiarity in Lily’s nimble movements, which is no surprise considering she has been cutting his hair for the last five years.
Grooming routines like haircuts are everyday activities we often don’t give exceptional thought to. But for patients like Wenjie, who has X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy – a rare genetic disease that has whittled his cognitive and physical functions – these simple tasks become almost insurmountable.
Lily exercises extra caution during haircuts for Wenjie as he sometimes makes involuntary movements.
Wenjie relies on a wheelchair to get around and requires assistance with daily routines such as transferring and showering. A visit to the hair salon will entail significant logistical challenges, an obstacle Lily’s services have helped to overcome.
Due to Wenjie’s condition, he sometimes makes sudden, involuntary movements. “There was once Wenjie moved suddenly while Lily was cutting his hair and she accidentally snipped her fingers,” Mr Phua shares. “We were very concerned but she immediately reassured us that she was fine and it was fortunate that Wenjie wasn’t hurt.”
We all have different gifts to share and enrich the community in our own way. Lily, who began volunteering with HCA five years ago, is humble about her contributions despite devoting her only day off each week to providing haircuts for HCA’s patients.
“I had always wanted to help out but my work schedule was so hectic,” she shares. “Five years ago, I decided to just sign up – because if not now, then when?”
Lily learned more about HCA through a friend, who was also a volunteer and it has been an immensely rewarding journey ever since. “When I am able to help someone, I feel very happy,” she says simply.
Lily derives joy from doing the two things she loves: haircutting and helping others.
“I have learned a lot through volunteering as well – the importance of not taking things too hard and simply being happy,” Lily elaborates.
Lily has been irrevocably moved by the patients she encounters too. “Life is remarkably different for each individual; there are some who live in poverty and there are others who are confined to their beds,” she says. “It makes me sad.”
Oftentimes, life and death are beyond the control of mere mortals, but with many hands on deck, we can collectively bring more joy and dignity to the remaining days of our patients.