Inspirational 12-year-old writes leading medic's biography

Tuesday 18 September 2012, 6:30AM
By Ideas Shop

Her first biography carries the words 'If Persistence was a Person' yet her own story should be entitled 'If Tenacity was a Person' . . . because the author is only 12 years old.

Hana Olds' book on leading medic Professor Swee Tan is being launched at 7pm on Monday 17 September 2012, with proceeds helping to fund his pioneering research into, among other things, the links he has discovered between strawberry birthmarks and cancer.

Inspired by Professor Tan's story on TVNZ's Sunday programme, Hana wanted to tell his story of being one of 14 children in a poor family being raised in a Malaysian village, through to his medical training and making Wellington his home and his base for innovative research into cancerous tumours.

Wanting to make a difference in the world, and inspire others to be persistent in chasing their dreams, the then 11-year-old chose to write it in a way that would appeal to her peers. She used her tenacity to convince the exceptionally time-poor surgeon to speak to her class before coercing him into giving up his time over many months to be interviewed and share his family album and stories. The result - If Persistence was a Person: a 12 year old's account of the Extraordinary Work of Professor Swee Tan.

"We all know people affected by cancer," Hana says. "I hope this book can make a difference by contributing funds to support Swee Tan's research. Swee believes he and the team can do it, so do I. If you believe in yourself you can do anything. I hope this book inspires many more people to take action in the world.

"My gut told me I had to do something to help this humble man and his quest. But it was my heart that persuaded me to do something about it, to take action. He has given me permission to tell his story - that is precious.

"I wrote this book, not just for Swee Tan, but for his quest, for all the human beings who have had or who have known someone with cancer. It was for them that I needed to take action."

Excerpt from book

Imagine you are a child, born in a small Malaysian village, to a poor family. You are one of fourteen children. Your mother never went to school and your father only attended school up until the age of ten. You love your mum and dad, but you don't want to be poor like them with few opportunities. You want to become a doctor, but people around you say, "You can't be a doctor. Look at your hands. They're rough and dirty." This doesn't stop you. It just makes your dream even stronger. This is the inspirational story of Professor Swee Tan. This is his story, from a young boy in rural Malaysia to an innovative surgeon in New Zealand. Swee's story can inspire you to change the world.