Most people view phone calls in the middle of the night with some anxiety but for Ms Kerk Ka Lee, such calls can bring good news, and may even result in a new lease of life for someone.

She is a transplant coordinator at the National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS), which is a member of the SingHealth Group. She likens her role to that of a pin that holds the different pieces of transplant fabric together.

A successful organ transplant procedure requires a multi-disciplinary team of dedicated professionals who are committed to providing holistic care for transplant patients. Typically about 20 medical staff, including surgeons, physicians, nurses, pharmacists and anaesthetists, are activated in one organ transplant procedure. 

Rendering full support

Ms Kerk’s journey with a patient awaiting a heart or lung transplant starts with a call — the NHCS receives about 30 donor calls a year.

Thereafter, she makes arrangements to investigate the suitability of the heart or lung for transplant, followed by a call to the potential recipient to be admitted to the hospital for tests to prepare for the transplant operation.

Her role does not end there. “I also support the potential heart or lung recipient throughout the whole transplant journey, ensuring that proper evaluation is done for the transplant procedure and that the patient is well taken care of after the procedure.”

She also helps to counsel and advise the patient’s caregivers on helping patients get back on their feet and resume normal lives. However, it is not always Ms Kerk who does the comforting and counselling. Sometimes, her patients inspire her as well.

Recounting her most memorable patient, she said: “A critically ill 40-year-old patient had multiple illnesses including diabetes, hypertension and heart failure. He had undergone six to seven surgeries including heart transplant within the same admission.

“Instead of me comforting him prior to one of the surgeries, he held my hand tight and told me not to worry about him as he was a strong person with nine lives. I was so inspired by his tenacity!”

The patient has since recovered and is an active member of the heart and lung transplant patient support group and an amputee support group. She feels an immense sense of fulfilment that she was part of his journey to a new lease of life. 

“Being a transplant coordinator is definitely not as easy as most people perceive,” she said. “Due to the ‘on-call’ nature of the job, it is unavoidable that you have to make last-minute changes at times to any personal commitments.”

However, seeing her patients’ health restored and watching them walk out of the hospital — some even go back to work — is what keeps Ms Kerk going in this challenging yet satisfying job.