How a Nurse’s Patients Inspired her to do an Ironman Triathlon

The Palliative Care Nurse that races for her patients.


Photos Serene Wong

Serene Wong is a Senior Paediatric Palliative Care Nurse at the Kwong Wai Shui Hospital. Working at one of the oldest charitable healthcare institutions in Singapore as a nurse in charge of caring for children and youths with long-term, life-limiting conditions, she goes through a roller coaster ride of emotions every day.

The 44-year-old is usually cheerful and positive though, and was recently presented with the Nurses’ Merit Award for her with Star Paediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) beneficiaries. The Star PALS is a division of the Kwong Wai Shui Hospital dedicated to improving the quality of life for children and minors up to 19 years of age, with life-threatening or life-limiting conditions.

Originally a special needs education teacher, Serene made the switch into nursing a few years ago as she wanted to experience a different role that still involved helping children and youth.

When she is off-duty though, you’ll find her racing in triathlons and trail races.

“It is a way to keep myself balanced,” says Serene, who is married with no children. “The working day of a paediatric palliative care nurse can be highly unpredictable. We make house calls daily for patients that are too ill to travel, check in with parents of young toddlers that have life-limiting conditions, and advise patients on a wide range of medical issues. The very definition of palliative care means that they are lifelong illnesses, and the patients have to learn to live with them. Within the span of one day, we can go from grieving for a young child who has passed away to celebrating the birthday milestone of another.”

Living near the East Coast Park in Singapore means that she can very quickly get from her home long running paths that lead to the beach. Cycling is also part of her training regime, and like many other road cyclists, she takes to the long Tanah Merah Coast Road for her training.

She tells us that while there are exceptions to the rule, she is usually on duty during regular office hours, allowing her some predictability to plan a training routine.

“I usually train alone, as it is quicker for me to get going through the door. While I appreciate the company of friends sometimes, running alone does allow me to think on issues by myself, and gives me room to sort out my thoughts,” she says.

While Serene has run road races of many distances including a full marathon, and competed in triathlons and trail races as well, she is attempting to complete her first Ironman Triathlon later in October, in Langkawi. Through a charity drive supported by her colleagues, she is aiming to create awareness and raise funds for HCA Hospice Care, directly for the hospital’s patients with life-limiting illnesses.

She explains, “I have seen how children and their families choose hope and faith, even in the most dire situations where there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. They inspire me to live my life fully, to add life to my days.”

While she is an experienced and conditioned fitness enthusiast, the Langkawi Ironman, consisting of a 3.8km swim, followed by 180 km bikeride and then a full 42km marathon, with a cut off time of 17 hours, will be her toughest personal race to date.

“It is tough finding time and energy to train for these gruelling distances after work, but I am determined to commit because I have seen how the children choose to follow their dreams even when their days are limited. Whenever I am tired during a race or training, I think back on how many of my patients continue to look on the bright side of their own lives, every day,” Serene adds.

The HCA Hospice Care (HCA) provides comfort and support to patients with life-limiting illnesses regardless of age, religion, ethnicity, nationality and financial status.

HCA’s core service, home hospice care, is provided at no charge to about 3600 patients annually. Besides medical care for patients, this service also entails psychological support for patients and caregivers. A 24/7 hotline ensures help is available round-the-clock.

Help the HCA and support Serene Wong’s Ironman effort here:


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