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Some of you may remember Shahril Salim, the national boxer who, on the eve of turning professional, was incapacitated by internal bleeding of the brain. Shahril is now bed-ridden and needs constant care (pictured left). He is tube-fed and unable to communicate verbally but can respond by raising his left arm to indicate a ‘yes’. He is also my younger brother whom I love dearly.
On 28 October 2012, Shahril collapsed during a sparring session and was rushed to the hospital in a coma. He was training for his debut professional Dragonfire bout, an international boxing association based in Australia, at the Marina Bay Sands. His opponent was going to be a boxer from China.
He had trained like I never saw him train before – disciplined, focused and with fire in his eyes. He would be the first to arrive in the gym and would work the punching bags even before the coach arrived. It was his dream come true to fight and represent his nation. He would have gone on and had a wonderful career and made our country proud.
Shahril and I grew up in a poor family having to fend for ourselves and never had anything handed to us. We worked hard and made good for ourselves. He once said, “Life has always been tough for me. Hopefully, one day it will all be just a distant memory…”
But life is cruel in that sense. Shahril was struck down in his prime and there is nothing we can do about it but just to look after him the best we can.
When a medical tragedy like what happened to Shahril strikes, no one can prepare for it. As days turned into weeks and weeks into months, Shahril remained in a vegetative-like state. The medical bills began to pile up. When he left the hospital on 23 July 2013, the expenses totaled $206,734 before government grant. Even after “subsidies” the bill still came to $54,000. There was no way that my sisters and I could meet the payment.
We organised the ‘Wake The Bull Project’ (Shahril earned the nickname ‘The Bull’ because of his tenacious fighting style) to help raise funds to pay off the hospital bill and to help with the maintenance expenses. His medication alone costs up to $500 or more a month, his diapers is $100 and milk $384 monthly. These expenses don’t include sterile water, tubes, syringes, wipes, antiseptic cleaner, trachea collar, hospital visits for treatment, ambulance charges etc. All in, his monthly needs exceed $1,000.
As his siblings, my sisters and I were expected to use our Medisave accounts to top up Shahril’s payment from his Medisave account. If our Medisave funds are used up, what happens to me and my family if we fall ill?
After much debate with the finance department, countless explanations, and means testing, they agreed to use Shahril’s Medishield account instead of deducting from our Medisave. We also discussed the use of Medifund in his case but the department refused because it said that he still had some money – less than $2,000 – in his Medisave account.
Now the Home Care Team from the Singapore General Hospital visits Shahril every month for a period of six months. The St Andrew Community Hospital, a non-profit hospital, will take over the care after the period. Although he gets subsidies, the home care provided by hospitals still cost us money.
When we are younger, we often don’t think about our healthcare needs because we are in the prime of health. But as Shahril’s case demonstrates, we can be struck by illness anytime, anywhere. When it happens, medical bills can be financially ruinous. In Shahril’s case, he was more fortunate because he was a known figure (and, therefore, had some media coverage) and, as a result, contributions towards his medical care needs were slightly easier to raise.
Imagine the countless others who have to face such a daunting prospect of taking care of a loved one with little financial support.
This is why I am so glad that my party has drawn up The SDP National Healthcare Plan. Under this proposal, Shahril would have contributed $50 a month from his CPF into a national healthcare fund when he was still healthy and earned an income – and if his family’s income was between $2,000 to $3,000. If the income was less than $2,000, no money would be deducted. And when he succumbed to his neurological problem, he would have paid a maximum per year of $2,000 of the hospital bill upon discharge. The Government would have paid the remainder. The national fund would continue to pay for his monthly expenses from the home care that he now receives.
Shahril was born on 4 December 1990, grew up in eastern Singapore, attended Min Xin Primary School and, later, Bishan Park Secondary School. He attended ITE College East Simei before serving his National Service in the SAF. He was a Singapore boy through and through. He loved his country and would have done it proud had fate not intervened.
But why is the system so compassion-less when he was in his darkest hour, struggling for his life? Why is it that we cannot devise a better way to protect the vulnerable when they are struck down by illness? Why does the working class have to teeter on the brink of financial destruction when medical tragedy occurs?
The SDP’s healthcare plan is not just another political issue which we debate. It has a real impact on real lives. We really need to stop and think how the present system has deprived us of our needs and to seriously consider the alternative.
I know it because it has had a real impact on my brother’s life and my life.
(To find out more about Shahril ‘The Bull’ Salim, please visit his FB at www.facebook.com/wakethebullproject)
Jufri Salim is a member of the SDP’s Central Executive Committee. He is also the party’s Organising Secretary.