Why Singapore’s Wealthiest Are Backing This Lawyer In The Fight Against Childhood Cancer

22-Mar-2019 Intellasia | Forbes | 6:00 AM Print This Post

“It all started when my son had leukemia at 3 years old,” says Jennifer Yeo. “They gave him less than a 10 percent chance to survive.”

The wife of Singapore’s former foreign minister George Yeo recounts the harrowing day two decades ago when their son was given the prognosis from doctors at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a leader in discovering cures for childhood cancer. While the odds were slim, the research hospital in Memphis, Tennessee was the family’s last hope after exhausting all of their options back home in Singapore.

The treatments lasted for eight grueling yearsfive years of chemotherapy, two relapses and a bone marrow transplantbut by the age of 11, Freddy, the youngest of their four children, beat the odds and is now cancer-free. He is currently a first year medical student at the University College London. “He only wanted to be a doctor, nothing else,” Jennifer says.

Freddy’s journey was the catalyst that drove Jennifer, an attorney by trade, to start Singapore’s VIVA Foundation for Children with Cancer in 2006 with about $6 million in donations and pledges from a group of supportive friends. VIVA (named after the latin phrase meaning “long live”) allocates funds primarily to physicians working on cures, a contrast from traditional charities that focus on bedside care.

“For me, my son was going through a bone-marrow transplant and had less than a 10 percent chance at survival. What was going to save his life? It was going to be hard science, research, knowledge, experience,” Jennifer says.

Jennifer had survived her own health battle a year ago, after being diagnosed with a rare form of nasal cancer in 2017. “There is no trace any more of my cancer” she wrote in a Facebook post, adding that she would have to remain “under close surveillance” in the first two years.

VIVA supports scientists and doctors through translational research, applying lab findings to tailored treatments (through “controlled and calculated risks”), and provides medical personnel with hands-on training.

The foundation’s overarching goal is to recreate the success of St. Jude’s in Singapore, where it can serve as the hub for curing childhood cancer across Asia-Pacific. Countries like Cambodia and the Philippines will be able to tap into the resources and knowledge rooted in current research findings.

“They say it’s cheaper to have a new baby than trying to cure a child with cancer,” Jennifer says, alluding to the cost of treatment in less developed countries.

VIVA celebrated its 13th anniversary earlier this month, and with its long-time partner, St. Jude, signed a memorandum of understanding with Shanghai’s Children’s Medical Centre, Singapore’s KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital and the National University Hospital. The pact will allow physicians to access St. Jude’s expertise in treating acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, the most common form of childhood cancer. It will also seek to collaborate on projects centered on paediatric oncology.

“As we advance the care of children with cancer in North America and Singapore, in countries with resources, we are just widening our disparities,” says Dr Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, executive vice president of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and chair of the Department of Global Pediatric Medicine. “Ninety percent of all children with cancer need [treatment] in countries with limited resources.”

Jennifer has also recently set up the VIVA China Children’s Cancer Foundation in Hong Kong, aiming to pool funds for the mainland.

Some of Singapore’s wealthiest residents are supporters. Philip Ng of the Far East Organisation donated 18,000 square feet of facility space in the Novena Medical centre in 2011. Nippon Paint Chair Goh Hup Jin contributed double the foundation’s startup cost of $6 million, while telling Jennifer, “Don’t limit yourself.” Kwee Liong Keng of the Pontiac Group, who sits on VIVA’s board, has gifted an undisclosed amount. Donations have also come from Lee Seng Tee of the Lee Group of Companies, Tang Wee Sung of Tangs, Singapore’s oldest department store, and Kuok Singapore, an investment firm controlled by Malaysia’s richest man Robert Kuok.

“You will definitely get good dividends, but we will not give you cash. You will get it in human life,” Jennifer says.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/gracechung/2019/03/20/why-singapores-wealthiest-are-backing-this-lawyer-in-the-fight-against-childhood-cancer/#2e3198706d6f

 


Category: Singapore

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