Patients in donation queue, saved by 'hidden hero'
Four people have received vital new organs thanks to the generosity of a family who wanted their loved one to 'live on' through others.
'I feel reborn,' said 54-year-old Ben Lau, whose tortuous three-year wait for a new liver finally ended in May, due to an unnamed stroke victim. The donor's heart and kidneys are also benefitting some of the almost 2,500 Hongkongers on the waiting list for new organs.
Lau is full of appreciation for the person he calls his 'hidden hero' - and his optimism is in stark contrast to two months ago, when he told the South China Morning Post there was little hope of getting the donation he needed to save him from cirrhosis.
'We know the chance [of a donation] is really slim, and we see many people die waiting for one,' he said then. 'I have prepared for the worst. What my mind cannot settle is to leave my wife [alone].'
But a telephone call on a Thursday night in May brought hope. He immediately took a taxi from his home in Wong Tai Sin to Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam and underwent the 11-hour transplant operation the following day.
'After all these years of queuing, I never really thought I could wait until the day I receive a new liver. I must be very lucky,' he said after returning home early last month.
'There is no word I could say to thank the [donor's] family enough. They must have suffered a lot of pain with the loss of one of their loved ones, but I want them to know how their decision has changed me and my family. I hope they can find some comfort by knowing this.'
But not every wait for an organ transplant ends so happily. Some 2,427 patients are still waiting for the call that will bring them news of a new liver, kidney, heart, lungs or cornea - and the queue is increasing.
Jenny Joo, co-ordinator of organ donations at the city's public hospitals, says half of those waiting in line need a new kidney and are having their lives extended by dialysis. But for those needing a liver or heart, the wait often ends with death.
The number of organs donated from dead patients in the city peaked at 410 in 2010, having previously averaged around 300 each year. Last year, the number dropped back to 358.
Some 97,393 had signed up to the government's Centralised Organ Donation Register by last month. That is double the figure two years ago, but still represents just 1.3 per cent of the city's population, four years after the register was created.
The Department of Health last year began a drive to attract younger people to sign up as donors, establishing a Facebook page to encourage online registration.
Asked whether it would join a global Facebook initiative set up in May by the social network's founder, Mark Zuckerberg which allows users to indicate that they are organ donors, the department said it would be open to any effective methods to promote donation.
The initiative is already operating in Australia, Britain, the Netherlands and the United States, with users able to explain their decision and make the information public, or limit it to their friends.