Henry’s chance to record his life story for three-year-old son Steven

Palliative Care Week 2021 Henry with wife son Steven beach food cake birthdayAged just 35, Henry Ngo has already lived an extraordinary life but may never be able to share any of his memories with his little boy, Steven.

The Vietnamese-Australian grew up in a poor suburb of Ho Chi Minh City with a loving family. Later, when Vietnam deregulated, his dad struck financial success in business.

Photos from the time show Henry enjoying his childhood playing in the sand on Vietnam’s Vung Tau Beach.

Later, tragedy struck when his dad passed away from kidney cancer. Henry, as a teenager, migrated to Australia to study for the HSC and yet more adventures. 

Henry wants to be able to share all these memories and more with his three-year-old son Steven but soon this may not be possible. The young Eastwood dad is now under the care of HammondCare’s Community Palliative Care program battling kidney cancer – the same disease that killed his dad.

Palliative Care Week 2021 Henry with family Vietnam vung tau beach

HammondCare’s Volunteer Biography Service is providing Henry with a means to record and pass on his life story to Steven with a high-quality illustrated book. The service produces about 30 biographies a year of palliative care patients, filled with detailed accounts produced by a dedicated team of volunteers that become lasting tributes for loved ones.

Following one-on-one interview sessions, books of around 40 pages are produced, usually including pictures of key moments. Special memories and messages for loved ones can be passed on in perpetuity.

Henry is meeting with one of these volunteers, Sara Musgrave, regularly under the program at his home to listen to and then write up his precious memories. “I need to do this for my son,” Henry said. “I want Steven to know about my life experiences, what I achieved in my life and any advice I want to write down and pass on.”

Sara, who has a masters degree in creative writing, said she considers herself privileged to spend time with Henry and record his memories. “This is such a special thing to do for Henry because he is so young. It’s a privilege to be able to help someone in this way who has been struck by such incredible bad luck.

“I hope the time we spend together is therapeutic for him and we always try to have a laugh as he tells some of his stories.”

Palliative Care Week 2021 Henry HammondCare volunteer biography service sara musgrave

Henry’s life is Sara’s third biography project and she concedes the process can be sad emotionally.

In the case of one recent palliative care patient, a former missionary in Papua New Guinea, the family were so delighted by her work they printed copies for family and friends to take home at the funeral.

Henry’s life story being chronicled through the Volunteer Biography Service comes as HammondCare marks Palliative Care Week Sunday 23 May-Saturday 29 May. HammondCare is a recognised leader in providing world-class care and innovation in palliative and supportive care.

HammondCare Volunteer Manager Leanne Broadhead said there is a team of up to 20 volunteers involved in the biography service. They have retired TV producers, book editors, journalists and English teachers in the ranks.

The volunteers involved in the HammondCare biography program are among 650 people involved in services from social engagement, community care and transporting HammondCare At Home clients to appointments. Before COVID-19, HammondCare had more than 1000 volunteers.

“The Volunteer Biography Program is a remarkable way for lives to be honoured and remembered,” Rev. Nixon said.

Find out more about National Palliative Care week