On 17 Aug 2009, Tzu Chi Singapore conducted its first overseas free clinic in Ratnapura district in Sabaragamuwa, Sri Lanka. To provide treatments to even more patients, the TIMA medical team of Singapore went back for the second time for a 3-day free clinic in March 2010, covering areas such as surgery, ophthalmology, dentistry, general medicine, and benefitted more than 2000 patients.
On 13 Mar 2010, the last day of the free clinic, when the logistic team was about to dismantle the free clinic, a mother and her daughter arrived hastily in the surgical section.
The daughter was wearing a floral headscarf and exposed only her big eyes and thick brows. When she slowly removed the headscarf and exposed her left cheek which was as big as a pomelo, the volunteers couldn’t help feeling sorry and heaved a sigh for her deformed face.
The mother, Leelawathi, said that her 21-year-old daughter, Priyangika, started to experience problems with her oral cavity when she was 13. In the beginning, it was the swelling of her gum, which was accompanied by fluid discharge. Some time later, her left cheek started to swell and grew into an abnormal tumour.
For the past nine years, Leelawathi had brought Priyangika to seek treatment from all doctors nearby but the situation did not improve, bringing the doctors to their wit's end. As the family was too poor, they couldn’t afford to continue seeking treatment, thus leaving the tumour to grow on Priyangika's face.
Based on the medical reports that Leelawathi brought, TIMA plastic surgeon, Dr Fong Poh Him, diagnosed that it was a case of aneurysm at Priyangika's left cheekbone. He added that the surgery and treatment process would be very complicated and could only be undertaken by well-equipped hospitals. As the local hospital, Base Hospital-Kahawatta, did not have adequate facilities, Dr Kapila Kannangaraa, Sabaragamuwa’s Provincial Director of Health Services, who was at the scene then, suggested that Priyangika be sent to Colombo's hospitals for further examination and treatment.
The CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore Branch and superintendent of the Sri Lankan chapter, Brother David Liu, immediately contacted Sri Lankan volunteers Shiro and Raj who're based in capital Colombo for help, requesting that they make arrangement for Priyangika to be examined at the Colombo Dental Institute and for evaluating the possibility of having surgery performed on her.
Upon hearing that they had to go to Colombo for treatment, Leelawathi was so worried that she almost shed tears. The mother thought that there was no way they could afford the hefty medical fee as her husband, the sole breadwinner of the family, was only a farmer with meagre income. When she learnt that Tzu Chi would provide all the necessary assistance, Leelawathi said chokingly in Singhalese, “Were it not for Tzu Chi, we would be totally clueless about what to do.”
Upon completion of the free clinic, Brother Liu followed up with Sri Lankan volunteers on Priyangika’s case and arranged for her to be examined in detail at a major hospital in Colombo. After careful deliberation, it was finally decided that Priyangika be sent to Tzu Chi hospital in Taiwan for pre-surgical assessment.
This year on 25 Feb, with the well wishes of Tzu Chi people in Sri Lanka, Priyangika left for Taiwan from Colombo in the company of her mother and Tzu Chi's social worker, Hansika. While in transit in Singapore that morning, they were warmly welcomed by local Tzu Chi volunteers who then brought them to the Taipei Representative Office to apply for visa to enter Taiwan.
At noon the following day, Brother Liu accompanied Priyangika and her other two companions on their flight to Taiwan for Priyangika’s treatment at the Hualien Tzu Chi Medical Centre. There will be many phases in the treatment and hence it is going to be a long process for Priyangika and her mother. However, no matter how long it takes, in the company of the Tzu Chi people, Priyangika will never feel lonely.
We wish that she will have a speedy and successful treatment and regain her confidence and beauty soon.