Domestic helper goes out of way to help 5-year-old with genetic disorder -- even on her off days

Lin Yangchen
The Straits Times
26 March 2017

Every night, Ms Josefina Amparo Hosena, 45, beds down together with her young charge Leona Heng to the soothing music of celebrity South Korean pianist Yiruma.

Every few hours, Ms Josefina wakes to replenish five-year-old Leona's milk supply through her feeding tube, and clean it. She gingerly disconnects the tube without waking Leona up - otherwise the little girl will not go back to sleep.

The Filipino domestic helper and the child, it is clear, have a special relationship. Leona suffers from Edwards syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that leads to heart defects, growth deficiencies and intellectual disability.

While Ms Josefina has to ensure that Leona is fed through the feeding tube at regular intervals round the clock, and be ready to respond to any emergency, such as heart failure, Leona has taught the Filipina and her own family what love and fighting spirit really mean.

Even on Ms Josefina's days off, the two go out together.

For her dedication, Ms Josefina was one of 40 individual caregivers or families, aged 28 to 79, given the 2017 Model Caregiver Awards yesterday. The biennial awards, which started in 2007, are organised by local non-profit AWWA Caregiver Service, the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) and the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC), in partnership with various charities.

Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor, who gave out some of the awards, said each recipient represents "a poignant tale of love and great sacrifice".

Citing Ms Josefina's example, she added: "Let's not forget the many domestic helpers in Singapore who have been caring for our loved ones as if they were their own family."

AWWA director Manmohan Singh said: "The role of family caregivers has taken on greater significance in Singapore, with our ageing population and longer life expectancy... We hope each caregiving story will touch other caregivers and help motivate and affirm their roles."

The NCSS and AIC will be rolling out more initiatives to help elderly or special-needs individuals and their caregivers.

Caregivers like Ms Josefina certainly have no easy job.

Leona's father Marcus Heng, 46, a director at a corporate training company, said of Ms Josefina: "It's not just work to her, she puts her heart and soul into it. It's challenging as she doesn't get enough sleep on some days."

Leona's mother is a property agent. The couple have another daughter, Leia, eight.

Even on her Sundays off, once every other week, Ms Josefina takes Leona along with her to church. "Everywhere we go, they say we look like mother and daughter," she laughs. A mother of four herself, Ms Josefina has known Leona since she was two months old.

And she plans to renew her employment contract, saying: "I want to see (Leona) growing up and getting married."