During a visit to the mountains of Tibet, Hong Kong artist Water Poon started experiencing constant hiccups. Occasionally, everyone develops these involuntary contractions of diaphragm, but these weren’t normal hiccups – they lasted for a week.

So once Water, whose second home is Vancouver, came back to the city, he went to his doctor.

“I thought it was because of the high altitude in the mountains,” he explains. “But it ended up being much critical.”

After several tests at UBC Hospital, Water’s doctor told him he needed to go to emergency at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH). What the doctors found was an enlarged aorta in the artist’s heart. He needed surgery.

Water couldn’t believe that something so simple as hiccups could lead him to never seeing his wife and two daughters again.

“The doctor looked very serious so I knew it was serious – he was very dedicated to my well-being,” he says. “I couldn’t believe my hiccup problem was suddenly a cardiac problem – I was shocked it could take away my life. I was in disbelief.”

“He was very lucky to have come in,” says Dr. Peter Skarsgard, Water’s cardiovascular surgeon. “He was lucky we caught it before it caused a life-threatening event.”

First time in a hospital

The surgery went well and Water was impressed by the attention he received. Incredibly, this was the first time the 72 year old ever stayed in a hospital. It was his first hospital experience and it was a positive one.

“The nurses, the doctor and even the cardiac surgeon were always checking up on me asking, ‘How are you doing? Are you comfortable?’” he says, nodding his head. “I felt really loved by the medical staff.”

Three days later, Water walked out of VGH ready to paint again.

“And I started painting right away,” he says with a smile. “I just wanted to get back to normal life and move forward. Painting, for me, is normal life and makes me happy.”

Back at home

Due to the major surgery, Water needed to be prepared before he went home. He says that because of the VGH nurses, he was ready to go back home. Dr. Victoria Bernstein is currently helping him with his rehabilitation, making sure he came to checkups and kept taking his medication (“I didn’t want to!” he says, laughing).

“They really prepared me for my recovery, teaching me exercises and how to take care of my chest and body. Because of that, because I exercised every day, I recovered quite fast.”

A love for the city

A couple of years after the surgery, Water, who is very well-known in the Chinese modern art scene, is of course painting, bouncing back forth from Hong Kong, teaching children’s art lessons and holding the odd exhibition around the city.

“I loved the city so much, I wanted to stay,” he says about when he first came here more than 40 years ago. “I love the landscapes here and was inspired. I loved Chinese art, but after moving here, I became influenced by Western as well. I want to bridge both cultures, folding culture within culture. I even travelled beyond the city and even painted the Canadian Rockies.”

“Everything is beautiful here,” he adds. “The people, the landscapes, the nature.”

The product of team work

Thanks to the collaboration between VGH and UBC Hospital, the influential artist can spend time with his family again.

“I feel good now,” he says, looking at his wife, Romy. “I get to see her again and my daughters. That’s very special to me.”

Water’s angel

When asked who his angel is for this year’s Angel Campaign. Water answers quickly.

“It’s my wife, Romy,” he says. “She always stands by my side and gives me so much love and care.”