Gift from the dead gives second chance at life
Her children and close relatives rushed to the hospital to say their last farewells, but a liver from a deceased donor came in the nick of time to save Wong Sau-heung's life.
'It's something impossible but it happened to me. I was rescued from death,' said the 62-year-old, recalling the grim days six months ago when she was dying from liver failure.
Soon after she entered the hospital, her children started frantically trying to find a possible donor. But they knew that even if they found one, the liver might not be a match for their mother.
As it turned out, a stroke patient who died gave Wong a chance to live. She expressed thanks for the gift of life from the unknown donor.
Her son, Hagan Chan, 28, said he immediately registered as a donor after his mother's surgery. 'I learned to treasure time spent with my family, to help others when you can, and treasure life,' he said.
The happy ending made Wong one of the few to receive a timely transplant.
There were 1,927 patients waiting for a transplant at the end of last year. Past experience shows half will die before a donation is available.
Wong was among 30 transplant patients who received a liver last year, a drop of almost a third from 2010, the Hospital Authority says.
Donations of all organs from the dead were lower last year than in 2010, with 99 kidney, liver, heart and lung donations last year, one quarter fewer than in 2010.
The average waiting time for Hong Kong's kidney-transplant patients is five and a half years, double the average in the US or Europe. The waiting time for a liver was around six months, but that was because many patients could not live long enough to wait, said Hong Kong Society of Transplantation president Dr Cindy Choy Bo-ying.
Choy stressed the importance of registering for organ donation and letting family members know.
'It's difficult for families to make a decision in a short time on whether to donate the organs. Sometimes family members can't reach an agreement among themselves, as they don't know what the deceased's will is,' Choy said.
There is also the problem of a shortage of transplant co-ordinators. These are the people who contact families about possible donations when a hospital patient dies. There are seven of them working for the 15 acute public hospitals, and Choy said she would prefer having one for each hospital.
At a ceremony yesterday, Choy, Wong and other organ-donation beneficiaries called on the public to register as donors.
At the end of last year, 91,000 people had registered online to be organ donors when they die. Since the first kidney transplant performed in Hong Kong in 1969, over 4,000 people have received organ transplants. Their 'new lives' have added up to 40,000 years, the society says.
The number of Hongkongers on the waiting list for an organ transplant at the end of last year. Only half are likely to get one in time