Melinda Mao: a tale of Rebirth
Melinda Mao’s parents faced the decision no parents want to face.
In 2008, their high achieving daughter lay in a coma in a Hong Kong hospital. Stricken by a viral illness, doctors gave her little hope. Switch off her life support, they recommended.
Mel’s parents said no.
Mel, too, said no.
She’d had learnt six languages by her early twenties, but in her coma, she only knew one tongue – a silent one, and it was speaking louder than words:
Don’t give up, it was saying. Never, ever give up…
Born in Hong Kong and with her early years in Australia, Melinda Mao had moved to the UK with her family for her formative high school years.
In the UK, her talents bloomed. She became a promising teenage pianist, was a volunteer in aged care facilities, and received gold and silver medals in Chinese martial arts, a Duke of Edinburgh award in mountaineering, and a Queen’s award in lifesaving.
She’d also learned to speak German, Spanish and Latin, in addition to English, Mandarin and Cantonese.
In 2003, she was one of the top five students in English literature in the UK’s GCSE examinations, out of over 50,000 high school candidates.
With her schooling finished, she returned to Australia with her family where she was studying for a double degree in Accounting and Law at the University of New South Wales.
After she obtained her Accounting degree, she began part-time work in her father’s finance company in Sydney.
But her candle dimmed just as it began to flare.
Only a few units away from completing the Law degree, she left Australia in 2008 with her family for a short holiday in Hong Kong.
Falling ill on the flight, doctors discovered on arrival she had encephalitis, an acute inflammation of the brain that can lead to permanent brain damage or death.
Hospitalised, she lapsed into a coma and her condition deteriorated to the point where that dwindling flame on Mel’s candle appeared to be going out.
It was here, listening to the whoosh and tap of a ventilator pumping air into Mel’s lungs that Mel’s parents faced THAT decision.
Many times, the doctors advised shutting down her life support. But each time, Mel’s parents said no.
George and Loran also decided her daughter’s candle could do with a little help from the ‘flame of faith’.
Mel had always said to her parents she wanted to be baptised into the Catholic Church. When told she’d soon die, they arranged for her to receive the sacrament of Baptism as she lay in her coma.
This took place on August 28, 2008, a couple of weeks after Mel’s twenty-second birthday.
She was baptised by Father Paolo Morlacchi, an Italian priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME).
Father Mok, as Mel calls him, is known in Hong Kong for his ministry to the sick and hospitalised and he prayed by Mel’s bed every night during the coma.
Despite the prognosis by the doctors, remarkably she did survive. Four months after entering the coma she regained consciousness.
But where one battle ended, another began. Mel had to learn to walk and talk again and the risk of pressured air travel ruled out a return to Australia until her lungs had strengthened.
This meant big changes for the family. Her father closed his Australian business and the parents moved to Hong Kong to support her.
After six years, she was finally back in Australia in 2014 where she settled with her family in Canberra.
Her journey in the faith is continuing in the national capital and she is preparing for Confirmation under the guidance of Fathers Richard Thompson and Adrian Chan at Mary Help of Christians parish, South Woden.
The church plays an important part in her life.
“It’s very meaningful and fun,” she says with a giggle.
An NDIS recipient, she now lives in her own home, cooks for herself, and does the household chores with a carer’s part-time support.
She’s learnt to sing again and performs in aged care homes. There are also studies in information technology and business administration that keep her busy and hopes of finding employment in the IT or bookkeeping industry.
Asked what she has learnt from her illness, Mel offers a message of hope and persistence.
“Don’t give up,” she says.
“Things will improve. Something good will come out of something bad.”
For Mel, there’s much to ponder about that ‘something good.’
Not least, is the curious matter of the sequence of events: the baptism taking place shortly after the anniversary of her birth in the original place of her birth.
Seemingly she was reborn to life in Hong Kong after hovering on its precipice – to a new faith, a new home, and a new future.
Don’t give up, she says.
It’s a powerful message delivered by parents staring at a life support machine, and a daughter facing a long road back from the brink.
Something good, indeed.