Siu Man has been a member of the Church in Hong Kong for about 40 years. Despite a congenital heart defect that has kept her homebound for most of her life, Siu Man learned how to read from the Book of Mormon. Today, Siu Man serves her family by caring for aging family members, researching her ancestors and sharing her handiwork crafts with others.
What happened when you were born? What kind of sickness did you have?
I was born and raised in Hong Kong, in a traditional Chinese family. I lived with my parents and my two older brothers. When I was only a few months old, my mother took me to the hospital for a body check because of my unusual health condition. She found that my lips and my finger nails were purple and I looked pale all the time. When a baby looks like this, the mother is terrified. Especially for my parents because they were not well-educated, they did not know much about this type of sickness nor did other people during that time have much knowledge of heart disease. My mother was worried because she was not sure what was happening or what would happen to me. But having a “blue baby” was not something that Chinese traditional parents would expect.
She eventually took me to the doctor. After several appointments with the doctor and many tests, I was diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart defect. With my parent’s educational level, they had no idea of the health problem that I had or what my life would be like, except for knowing that I had a rare kind of heart disease. They only knew that my blood vessels in my heart were not working in the right way and I did not have enough oxygen in my blood.
Back in that time heart surgery was something very serious and dangerous and the success rate was low. My parent knew nothing about what to do with me. Instead of proceeding to do a surgery, my mother decided to keep me at home and take care of me. I was too young and did not understand the whole situation. When I grew up, I realized I was different from other people and I started to learn of my health condition. Everything I did must be in a slow pace because if I rushed or just even walked a little faster than usual, I might have fainted or even died. I did not ask my parents for more details of my sickness because it was too complicated to them, and also to me. However, my sickness did not bother me much because I was too young to realize the seriousness of this heart disease, which is a good thing because I did not have to spend time worrying, or terrifying myself with this sickness.
With this sickness, what was your childhood like?
As I mentioned before, my mother kept me at home and did not allow me to go outside. Occasionally I was allowed to go out under special circumstances. I lived in an old apartment complex in Hong Kong. Back in those days, buildings in Hong Kong, especially residential buildings, were usually built up to ten stories. Nothing like what you see in Hong Kong nowadays, with all the high-rises and skyscrapers. These old apartment complexes usually have no elevator built-in. In the building that I used to live, there was no elevator also. I lived on the seventh floor of my building, which means whenever you needed to go to the market, to the park or just go outside for a walk, you had to go up and down by the stairs. It made it even more difficult for me to go outside. When I was a child, for every few steps I took, I had to stop every few minutes in order to keep my heart calm. Because once my heart pumps too fast, I might faint or die because there is not enough oxygen in my blood. For people with good health, climbing stairs to the seventh floor was an easy job, but for me, it was impossible to do.
This living condition was difficult for me especially when I was in an emergency situation or in need of medical attention. Every time I needed to go out or go to the hospital for doctor’s appointment, my brothers would piggy-back me up and down the stairs. They did the same when I needed to go outside. Without them, I would not be able to see the world or know what it was like outside my home. I seldom interacted with others because I stayed home most of the time when I was young. Fortunately I had some kind neighbors. They would come to my home and play with me. Life was simple back then, we did not have any fancy toys, computers or television games. But having my neighbors visit was good enough for a child like me who was not allowed to go outside to play nor attend school. Their visits meant a lot to me. They made my childhood life happier and more colorful. Even until now, I still keep in touch with them and they are still my best friends.
When did you join the Church? And how?
I was baptized when I was eleven years old. My brother was the first one in my family to learn of the Church. He later on got baptized and introduced me to the Church. When I first learned the gospel, I was very happy because I was able to have more interaction with others. Many people came and visited me and taught me about the Gospel.
My problem was I did not know how to read or write because I did not receive proper education. I was kept home by my mother after they found out that I had heart disease. I was not allowed to go to school and learn like other children. I later on learned how to read and write from my friends and from attending evening school. When I was taught about the Gospel, I knew that reading the scriptures was very important in gaining a testimony. However I felt discouraged because I did even know how to read and write. I remember when the missionaries first taught me how to read the scriptures, I did not even know how to read “Nephi,” the very first word in the first chapter of the Book of Mormon. My brother wanted me to learn the Gospel so he taught me how to read, especially the scriptures.
Later on, my brother went overseas for study, and I was left alone with my other non-member family members. Before my brother left, he bought me a dictionary. With the dictionary and the help of other members, I started to learn how to read the Book of Mormon. Those members would come to my home and teach me reading and writing. They were very patient with me, and I could feel their love. I am grateful they were willing to teach me reading and writing so that I could learn the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
From not knowing how to read at all to now reading the whole Book of Mormon, it is a miracle to me and it strengthens my faith from reading the scriptures. People around me witnessed this miracle also. To me, learning the Gospel gave me hope. I was able to meet a lot of great friends in the Church and they were willing to take care of me after my brother left. This was very encouraging to me. I felt God’s love surrounded me. I decided to be baptized and joined the Church.
You had several major surgeries in your life. How has the Gospel and your faith in Jesus Christ helped you overcome these difficult times?
When I was first diagnosed with this heart disease, the doctor told my parents that the successful rate of heart surgery was low. Also, the medical technology was not as advanced as what we have today. My parents’ family did not agree to do the surgery even though it might improve my health condition. However, they finally agreed to send me to the hospital to have my first major heart surgery when I was around 9 years old. Since then, I have had four major heart surgeries in my life. They are all critical and dangerous. Following each surgery, I had at least 30 or more stitches on my chest and stayed in the hospital for several months for recovery. Not all the surgeries were as successful as they were supposed to be, and I was fortunate to be alive after each surgery. But in general, my health did improve little by little after each surgery. Before every surgery, my doctor would explain to me the risk of doing the surgery and that I might even not be able to survive.
I remember when I was in my twenties I had my fourth surgery. The medical technology was way better compared to when I was a child. The doctor planned to fix my blood vessels so that my heart could be ‘normal’ again. They needed to open my chest once again for the surgery. My doctor told me that the chance of surviving was only half and half. But I had a peaceful feeling about this particular surgery. I asked for a priesthood blessing before the surgery. In the blessing, the brother did not even mention the surgery. I was a little bit puzzled and did not know how to respond. However, I was not too worried because I know Heavenly Father was mindful of me and of my health condition. At the end, the doctor did open my chest and checked inside. My heart structure and the blood vessels were too complicated, so they decided just leave it as it was. Instead of complaining that the doctor opened my chest for nothing (opening the chest was a pain to a patient like me), I am indeed grateful that Heavenly Father watches over me.
I am grateful that even though my body is weak, Heavenly Father gives me a strong mind to overcome these challenges. My faith increases through these experiences. I never pity myself for having this heart disease, which has caused so many inconveniences in my life and to people around me. But I do not want to complain because I know that Heavenly Father is taking care of me. I am His daughter. He puts me in His hand. It is up to me to choose to be happy or sad, positive or negative. I choose to be happy and positive, whatever happens in my life.
I continue to serve and be an instrument of God.
Having heart problems might seem to be an obstacle in a person’s life, but I try my best to find ways to be happy and serve others. When I grew up, and after recovering from my major surgeries, my health condition was improving. I started to look for jobs and attend evening school. I wanted to be independent and tried not to rely on my family. I worked in a factory doing packaging in the morning. I enjoyed working because I learned so much from it. Also, I was able to meet new people in my workplace. At first my mother opposed my going to work because of my health condition, but I insisted on going. I know that I have to learn skills and earn a living in case I have to in return take care of my parents.
Besides working, I have a great desire to go to school after joining the Church and knowing how to read the scriptures. My brother who went overseas was the only one who supported me to go to school. I attended evening school at night. Since I have a little knowledge in reading and writing, I started the school courses in grade 3 level. I love going to school. Attending evening school has allowed me to gain more knowledge and know the importance of education. Having a job and attending school were something that I had longed for in my childhood. I am grateful that I have enough strength to handle both.
Several years after my fourth surgery, my dad had a stroke and my mum’s health was declining. At the time, I still had my part time job. I remember I had to work and take care of my parents at the same time. I had to cook for them and make sure all they were all right. When I was young, they took care of me, and it was my time to take care of them. They eventually passed away due to old age and illness. I felt that Heavenly Father saved my life so that I could take care of my parents. He gave me work to do in serving His children on earth. I am grateful that He gave me strength to my body so that I could have this responsibility to take care of my parents when they were getting old. I know that this is my mission in life and many more to come.
In the meantime of taking care of my parents, I was able to visit my ancestral home in China. Miraculously, I was able to find my family history. It was a thick and bulky book, with records of many of my ancestors who lived that long time ago. As some of you may know, keeping a family history book in China is very important to the family and the culture. The family history book means a lot to the Chinese families because it is a symbol of preservation of family line and root. The family history book that I received has over three thousand names in it. I felt so blessed to have this family history book of my own family. After taking care of my parents and serving them until they died, my mission now is to take care of my ancestors. I enjoy going to the temple for ordinances on their behalf. I know that they are also watching over me so that I can continue to work on my family history. They are allowing me to serve them while I am still on this earth.
Besides serving my family, I also learned that it is important to serve others and be their friends. It is my dream to be a volunteer. I want to serve others because Jesus Christ teaches us to love one another. I try my best to serve as my health condition allows. One thing that I did over the years was handcraft work. I enjoy and love beading. I made little dolls, handbags, wallets, and many other things with plastic beads. I would do this handcraft work and make it as a gift for people I meet. Sometimes I do this for the elderly center or other non-profit organizations. Besides this, I also do stitching. Currently, I am stitching the word “marriage” in Chinese and will frame it for a friend who just had her wedding anniversary. I know that I am not able to help people to move furniture when they move from house to house, nor will I be able to do any work that require a lot of man power. But I am able to do small things like this, such as beading. I love to see the smiles on people’s face when they receive my gift.
Sometimes I compare myself to others, especially those who grew up with me. Most of them are married, have children, or are successful in their career. I sometimes do think that they are better off than me. But when I look back my life, I see that God is with me all the time. He watches over me and supports me in everything I encounter. I am forever grateful to have the chance to learn the Gospel. To me, I learned a lot in the Church and in the Gospel. The Gospel gives me hope. It was not easy for me to learn how to read, but I did it through reading the scriptures. From the scriptures, I learned that there are still works for me to do in this life. I learned to accept God’s will and continue to have faith and hope. I am grateful that Heavenly Father gives me a strong mind, even though my body is weak, so that I am able to overcome the challenges in my life. I feel God’s love every single day in my life. In return I am willing to be His servant. I will continue to serve Him and His children with all that I can offer.
At A Glance
Location: Hong Kong
Marital status: Single
Favorite Hymn: “Count Your Many Blessings”
Interview by Grace Ka Ki Kwok. Photos used with permission.