By Genevieve Jiang
FOR the past three months, a Singaporean employer has been taking time off work to drive his cancer-stricken maid to and from hospital about once a week.
At home, his wife helps the maid with the household chores so that she can rest.
Since October this year, Mr Jonathan Khoo has forked out close to $4,000 in medical fees for his Filipino maid, Miss Rowena De La Cruz.
And now, the 33-year-old project manager in a shipping firm hopes to raise more money through friends and contacts so that 30-year-old Miss De La Cruz can continue to receive medical treatment here.
He told The New Paper: 'It's the right and moral thing to do. She doesn't have any family here, and it's our duty to do the best we can for her.'
Miss De La Cruz has osteosarcoma, a rare and highly malignant form of bone cancer in her right leg.
Without treatment, she may not survive past a year.
If she delays treatment any further, doctors have said there is a high chance she will lose her leg.
Miss De La Cruz, who first came to Singapore in April 2005, started working with Mr Khoo's family in May this year.
He is her second employer in Singapore.
The pain in her right leg developed some time in September this year.
She said: 'The area below my knee felt tender and painful when I touched it.
'I couldn't walk fast and had trouble standing for long hours.'
She thought it was an old injury acting up. She had fallen from a ladder about three years ago, while cleaning windows at her previous employer's home.
Mr Khoo took her to see a Chinese physician, but the pain persisted.
In October, Mr Khoo took her to a polyclinic, where X-rays were done. Doctors there referred her to a specialist at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), where she underwent further tests.
Dr Mathew Cheng, a consultant orthopaedic oncology surgeon, confirmed MissDe La Cruz's ailment.
He said that chemotherapy, followed by surgery, had to be done as soon as possible to improve the chances of saving her life, and her leg.
HELPING HAND: Mr Jonathan Khoo
feels it is his duty to care for
Miss Rowena De La Cruz as the
latter has no family in Singapore.
It is devastating news for Miss De La Cruz, her family's sole breadwinner.
She sends $200 every month home to her parents in Luzon.
Her father, 62, has kidney problems, and her mother, 55, has heart problems. Both are unable to work, she said.
Miss De La Cruz, who is single, added: 'I don't know what will happen to me if I cannot walk any more. How will I work? What will happen to my parents?'
That is why Mr Khoo hopes to do the best he can for her.
His wife, 38, a housewife, has been doing most of the cleaning and cooking at their five-room Yishun flat for the past three months.
Miss De La Cruz helps to keep an eye on the couple's 4-year-old son and 11-month-old daughter.
These days, she can stand for no longer than 15 minutes at a time before she has to rest. She is on medication which can ease the pain for up to an hour.
When The New Paper met the pair on Wednesday, Miss De La Cruz broke down several times during the interview because of the pain.
She struggled to stand, and could barely walk. Mr Khoo had to help push her around in a wheelchair.
The employer has been taking several hours off work up to four times a month to take Miss De La Cruz to hospital.
When she was hospitalised for two days last month, he visited her every day, and bought her food.
Understands her pain
He said he understood the pain she was going through because his own grandmother died in March this year of colon cancer. She was 93.
He said: 'I saw how my grandmother suffered, having to go through chemotherapy, and going in and out of hospital.
'For Miss De La Cruz, it's even worse because she's so young.'
However, Mr Khoo said he could not afford Miss De La Cruz's medical treatment in the long term.
He said: 'She is a foreigner and doesn't qualify for any subsidy. The fees are too much for me to handle.'
He has bought medical insurance for her, but the maximum he can claim is $5,000.
The Manpower Ministry requires employers to buy insurance of at least $5,000 for the medical expenses of foreign domestic workers from 1 Jan this year.
Dr Cheng said he was willing to do the operation for free. He has also approached Dr Hsieh Wen-Son, an oncologist from the International Cancer Specialist Clinic, to offer chemotherapy for free.
But the cost of the drugs and hospitalisation can still come up to about $50,000.
Mr Khoo's salary of more than $4,000 goes to supporting his own family and his 64-year-old mother.
He said he had to terminate Miss De La Cruz's services because he needed another maid to take care of his children as his wife was planning to find a job soon.
He could not afford to hire two maids, he said.
Because Miss De La Cruz's employment permit has since been terminated, she will be flying home today.
But if Mr Khoo manages to raise enough money, she will return to Singapore for treatment. If not, she will seek treatment in the Philippines.
Miss De La Cruz said: 'I want to receive treatment in Singapore if possible. I trust that Dr Cheng will try his best to save my leg and I can still walk.
'If I lose my leg and become a burden to my family, I don't know what to do.'
This article was first published in The New Paper on Dec 18, 2008.
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