Liver donor is The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2021
Singapore, 9 February 2022 - He responded to an urgent call for living organ donors and gave part of his liver to a baby he had never met before. For his selfless act and for being an inspiration to others, Mr Sakthibalan Balathandautham was named The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2021 today.
The 28-year-old sales executive received the award from President Halimah Yacob, who was the guest-of-honour at The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2021 award ceremony held today (9 February) at the UBS University.
Mr Sakthibalan came across a plea by a young couple looking for a liver donor for their one-year-old daughter, Rheya, while checking his Instagram messages in July 2020. The girl had been diagnosed with biliary atresia, a rare disease where the bile ducts in the liver are inflamed, blocking bile flow to the gallbladder. The condition can eventually lead to liver failure.
After clearing the donor suitability test as well as reviews and assessments, including by an ethics committee, Mr Sakthibalan donated 23 per cent of his liver to Rheya in September 2020. After a successful recovery, he forged a strong bond with the toddler and her family, and is now an advocate for organ donation, encouraging more people to step up and help patients in need.
His story came to light last year. On why he stepped forward, Mr Sakthibalan said: “I thought to myself: There’s a girl out there, who is very young, who is looking for a living liver donor. I felt this was an opportunity for me to step up and do something bigger.”
The award ceremony was streamed on The Straits Times website as well as its Facebook and YouTube channels.
Organised by The Straits Times and presented by UBS Singapore, the Singaporean of the Year award is given each year to a Singaporean individual or group that has made an impact in society. This could be through achievements which have put Singapore on the world stage, or for improving the lives of others in the community, or showing resilience in the face of adversity. The award is now in its seventh year.
Last year's award was awarded to frontline fighters in the ongoing battle against Covid-19, represented by five individuals: Mr Abdul Wahab, a nurse clinician in the intensive care unit (ICU) at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID); Mr Benson Ng, who signed up to be a swabber for Covid-19 tests; Mr Nigel Quek, commanding officer at Certis' Integrated Quarantine Order Services; Professor Ooi Eng Eong, co-developer of Singapore's sole Sars-CoV-2 vaccine currently in human trials; and Professor Leo Yee Sin, executive director of NCID.
Previous winners of the award, which was first given out in 2015, include Ms Angie Chew, who founded Brahm Centre and has been providing vulnerable Singaporeans with emotional and mental support and helping the elderly through the charity; Ms Siti Noor Mastura, who co-founded non-profit organisation Interfaith Youth Circle; Dr Goh Wei Leong and Healthserve, an organisation that provides migrant workers with affordable healthcare; Olympic gold medallist Joseph Schooling and his parents May and Colin; and Madam Noriza A. Mansor, who won hearts when she helped an elderly man who had soiled himself in public.
There were 10 finalists this year. They include canteen stall operators Asanul Fariq Sani and Norhasyimah Awaludin, who turned the space outside their Tampines flat into a corner for free groceries for neighbours in need amid the pandemic; mental health advocates Porsche Poh and Silver Ribbon (Singapore) for their efforts to address mental health issues; Paralympian swimmer and disability advocate Yip Pin Xiu who won two gold medals at the Tokyo Paralympic Games last year; and badminton star Loh Kean Yew who made national history by defeating more seasoned opponents and winning the Badminton World Federation World Championships in December. (See attachment for full list of finalists)
A judging panel of 13 as well as online voting by members of the public contributed to the final decision. Judges included editors from The Straits Times, social entrepreneur and activist Saleemah Ismail, Singapore Airlines Vice President, Public Affairs Siva Govindasamy and Institute of Technical Education Chief Executive Low Khah Gek (See attachment for full list of judges).
The Singaporean of the Year 2021 was awarded a trophy and $20,000 in cash, while the other nine finalists received $5,000. The prize money is sponsored by UBS, which has supported the award since its inauguration.
Other sponsors include airline partner Singapore Airlines (SIA) and hotel partner Millennium Hotels and Resorts. SIA is sponsoring a pair of business class tickets for the Singaporean of the Year, and a pair of economy class tickets for the other finalists. The top award recipient will also receive a five-night stay at any of Millennium & Copthorne Hotels' global properties, while the other finalists will each get three-night stays.
Mr Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief of SPH Media Trust's English/Malay/Tamil Media group and Editor of The Straits Times, said: “Last year’s Singaporean of the Year winners - our Covid frontline fighters - was always going to be hard to beat, not least since they are still hard at work battling this dreaded disease.
“Still, we managed to have a strong line up of finalists this year, from people pursuing a cause, from promoting mental well-being to food security and safeguarding our heritage. There were also individuals who stepped up to do their part, from courageously coming to the rescue to pitching in to help others in need in the community.
“But in the end, it was an individual act of bravery, selflessness and sheer humanity that won over the judges. We were all inspired by Sakthibalan’s act of courage, generosity and desire to put his own health and well being on the line to make a difference to the lives of others. He is indeed a worthy winner of this award.”
Mr. Edmund Koh, President, UBS APAC, said: “The very meaning of this award is in tandem with our purpose at UBS, where we reimagine the power of people and investments to create a better and more sustainable world. It is an honour to be gathered in the same room with Inspiring athletes, courageous community heroes and advocates championing their chosen causes. They are all winners and all deserve this award and recognition! Our Singaporean of the Year 2021, Sakthibalan Balathandautham, showed us an extraordinary act of selflessness and generosity in stepping forward to donate an organ to save a stranger. Sakthibalan and all the finalists are indeed role models who show us the good in people and the best of humanity, how we can rise above adversity to accomplish great things for our community.”
For more information about the award, visit str.sg/SOTY21
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Launched on July 15, 1845, The Straits Times has been moving with the times in its efforts to engage and grow its audience and exploring innovative ways of storytelling, as well as continuously refreshing its products to maintain quality and stay relevant to the changing needs of its readers. Its integrated newsroom operates round-the-clock, providing content as it happens on all platforms, from its website at www.straitstimes.com, Apple and Android apps to social media.
The Straits Times is a member of two media networks - the Asia News Network and the Impact Journalism Day alliance of newspapers - and it has won multiple international media awards, including from the Society of Publishers in Asia, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers' Association (Panpa), Society of News Design and WAN-IFRA. Its multimedia newsroom and innovative projects were recognised at the Asian Digital Media Awards 2020 presented by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), when it clinched a Gold for Best in Lifestyle, Sports, Entertainment Website or Mobile Services. The Straits Times also won the INMA Global Media Awards in 2020 for its campaign that tailored news on COVID-19 for students.