Ed Ong, the lead actor in this year’s Easter drama, The Centurion, almost lost his life to dengue hemorrhagic fever just a few months ago. He shares his miraculous story.
Tell us about your dengue nightmare.
I had dengue hemorrhagic fever, a severe form of dengue where internal bleeding occurs. I was hospitalized from Nov. 27 to Dec. 8, 2010. On the third day of my hospitalization, things took a serious turn. My blood platelets level dropped to 18,000 per micro liter—if platelet levels fall below 20,000, spontaneous bleeding may occur and this is considered a life-threatening risk. I started bleeding internally from the gut. The doctors managed to locate the wound and stopped it; but then they discovered that my chest area was filled with blood as well. As I could not be operated on due to a dangerously low blood platelets level, the only thing the doctors could do was to put in a tube to drain out the blood. The next three days, I had to go through blood transfusions totaling 28 pints of blood. I was told by a doctor later that I was nearly in the two percent of people who die from dengue.
What did you learn from that life-and-death situation?
The first thing is that relationship, not riches, is a better measure of a life well-lived. This episode of being dangerously ill and hospitalized made this truth really clear to me—that I need to prioritize and live life in a way where the pursuit and building of relationships must be above the pursuit and building of material wealth. When faced with life and death, people are the ones you reach out to, and people are the ones who reach out to you.
I saw clearly that I had everything—God, family and friends. My wife, Hsin Yi, was dealing with all aspects of my hospitalization, taking care of my two young children, running the household, communicating with and handling family members and friends. But most importantly, she was there for me, by me. Friends like Pastor Kong and Sun, whose visits and prayers were a huge encouragement; Suraj, whose iPod, loaded with prayers, kept me sane through nights when I couldn’t sleep; long-time friend and fellow church member, Cheo Meng Ching, himself having gone through dengue, came and gave me many hours of reading Bible verses and hand/foot massages; Pastor Ming visited me, bought me supplements and took me out for a good meal after I was discharge—he’s always been there for me at the critical junctures in my life; John Lam, my cell-group leader, who told my wife and I that he was ready to help us financially, if needed; and many other family members, pastors and friends who came alongside us both during and after my hospitalization. It was a strange feeling… I felt “rich”—rich with the care and concern of these relationships that I’ve always had, right before me all this time.
The second thing I realized is that humans are dependent one another—even those whom we do not know, like the doctors and nurses who tended to me. These people made decisions, treated me, nursed me—they were the “brains” and “hands” that God used. And all the blood donors whom I’ll never get to know. The beautiful thing about blood is that it is has nothing to do with race, language, religion, education, or social standing.
Why did you take on the role of Marcus the centurion so soon after your dengue episode?
In December last year, as I was still recovering, I was invited by CHC’s drama directors to watch a full-dress rehearsal for the Christmas drama, Heroes Of Faith. I walked like an old man into the rehearsal, with help.
Initially, when Sandy (Yeo) and Jaslynn (Khoo) asked me if I wanted to be involved in this Easter’s production, I said I couldn’t. Due to the dengue episode, I needed to catch up on business projects for my interior design firm. Physique-wise, I didn’t have the body to play a centurion! I had lost so much weight from the dengue, and I have a skinny body frame to begin with—so I declined.
But my heart was not at peace. This was our first Easter at Suntec, and I knew we had to put up the best production we possibly could. My thoughts went out to all the hundreds and thousands of people who were going to come for the Easter services and how they needed to experience the love of God and the salvation power of Jesus Christ. I believe we definitely have the best team when we all come together, and I decided I could not stand aside and do nothing. So I called Sandy and Jaslynn and said, “I’m in.”
Anyone who watched you in The Centurion would not have believed you were ill not so long ago. How did you physically prepare for the role?
I went to the gym almost daily for about seven to eight weeks. I did free weights, mostly, to build up a strong upper body. I also kept to a diet of oats, steaks, lean chicken breast-meat, eggs, potatoes and weight-gain supplements. I might have put on about six kilos for the role.
What was your biggest takeaway from this Easter production?
For me, the opportunity to serve and work with Sandy and Jaslynn, the two women at the helm of the Drama Ministry, is always a privilege. Their directorial skills and ability to put together full-scale drama productions is simply amazing, and I believe, unmatched locally. As an actor, one has to become “vulnerable” and allow himself to be totally open to the director’s direction and critique of his performance, both during rehearsals and after the actual performance. Whether in trying out my own interpretations and emotions of the role I play, or in following the directions given by Sandy or Jaslynn, I can totally trust them, and I have become a better actor for it.
What is amazing is that for such a big production, the cast and crew consist almost entirely of volunteers. Each volunteer is in it to give, not to get. We have imperfect people with perfectly attuned hearts and attitudes that God can work and move through. The result is an epic performance that brought down the presence of God and the power to transform hearts and lives.
I believe that for everyone who was involved in this, we’ve gained much more than we’ve given. And the joy of seeing hearts turning and coming into the house of God—that’s what Easter is all about. ~ SERINA PERERA