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Oem Srey Ni used to say it was a privilege to assist people in need, her brother said
PHNOM PENH--A medical graduate with a degree in midwifery who had been volunteering as a frontline worker since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in Sihanoukville in early 2020 died of the coronavirus late at night on Aug. 29. She was 28 years old.
“Oem Srey Ni used to say that her job was meaningful, that it was a privilege to assist people in need,” her brother Oem Samphors said. She also really enjoyed her job as a midwife because she was able to help bring human beings to life, he said.
Dr. Chum Ra, a data system manager and medical doctor at the Preah Sihanouk Province Referral Hospital who had also been one of Srey Ni’s teachers, said that, both as student and staff, she had worked harder than any other student or staff member.
“I appreciated Srey Ni,” Dr. Ra said. “In almost 100 percent of the cases, no one out of my 200 [hospital] staff is as hardworking as she was.”
According to Dr. Ra, Srey Ni worked as a medical receptionist alternately from Monday to Sunday. In her free time, she worked with his wife at the Department of Midwifery and as his assistant mainly toward the end of each month. Moreover, she was operating the bone scan machine.
Dr. Ra admitted that he did not support her decision to join the COVID-19 frontline workers because this job was risky and she was already doing so many jobs. However, she was determined to do so, he said, and frontline worker became her fifth job.
“This precious human resource whom I and my wife had been cultivating has gone to waste,” Dr. Ra said. “I’m proud of her because her work and sacrifice have been recognized and admired.”
Born and raised in Preah Sihanouk Province, Oem Srey Ni graduated in 2018 from the Kampot Regional Training Center for Health with and Association Degree in Midwifery.
“Since she was young, she’d always told our parents that she wanted to be a doctor to help other people,” her brother Oem Samphors said. During her first year at the training center in 2015, she worked as a volunteer medical receptionist at the Preah Sihanouk Province Referral Hospital.
“She was always compassionate,” Samphors said. “[S]he always made time to help others despite her hectic schedule. She was a tolerant person. She sometimes got sick, but she never complained.”
In 2018 she graduated from the Kampot Regional Training Center with an Association Degree in Midwifery. And in 2019, she became a contract staff at the Preah Sihanouk Province Referral Hospital.
In early 2021, Srey Ni gained herself a place in the healthcare civil service framework of the Ministry of Health, Samphors said. She had been volunteering as a frontline COVID-19 medical worker in Sihanoukville since early 2020, he added.
Srey Ni’s family had been concerned about her safety when she volunteered. “We did not reject her decision but told her to be careful,” Samphors said. “She told us that she’d always wanted to serve people in need. So, when the opportunity came, she had to join in order to save COVID-19 patients.”
Working both at the hospital and as a COVID-19 frontline worker had been exhausting for Srey Ni, Samphors said.
“It was demanding for her, but she never complained,” he said. “Sometimes, she had to stay up till 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning for a meeting. Sometimes, she had to do her day’s work without getting any sleep.”
In the course of her volunteer work, Srey Ni helped many COVID-19 patients, Samphors said. At his sister’s funeral, many of her former patients attended although from a distance to maintain social distancing as dictated during the pandemic, he added.
Asked if she may have suffered from a preexisting condition that may have caused a sharp decline in her health when she caught COVID-19, Samphors said that she always seemed to be healthy, but that she was overworked.
Lim Samaen, director of the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Health Department, said that Srey Ni passed away three days after being sent to the Premier Centre Sen Sok for treatment. The provincial authorities facilitated having her body sent to her family to be cremated in Sihanoukville, she said.
“Srey Ni had been fighting COVID-19 with us since the first outbreak of COVID-19 in Sihanoukville,” Dr. Samaen said. Losing her was a tragedy, she added.
Upon hearing of her death, Minister of Health Mam Bunheng said that he was shocked and truly sorry to learn this. “Losing Srey Ni was the loss of a medical worker who had sacrificed her physical and mental strength to take care of COVID-19 patients,” he said. “We would like to extend our heartfelt condolences to the family.”