Demand still great 20 years after Hong Kong's first heart transplant operation

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 December, 2012, 4:15am

Hong Kong's first heart transplant recipient marked the 20th anniversary of his operation with an appeal for more people to register as organ donors.

Chiu Wan-hoi, 68, talked about his experience at an event hosted by the Hospital Authority yesterday, saying he was thankful to be given 20 more years - and counting - to enjoy life.

"I feel like I am younger after the transplant," said Chiu, a retiree, who received the transplant in 1992 at Grantham Hospital in Wong Chuk Hang.

The heart came from a 20-year-old donor who had died in a traffic accident. "My life was saved and extended for the 20th year. I hope I can live even longer," Chiu said.

The earliest transplant operations were done at Grantham in Aberdeen, but since 2008 the surgery has been conducted at Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam.

Since Chiu's operation, 139 people in Hong Kong have undergone heart transplants, 17 of which were done this year - the highest number recorded in a single year.

One of the patients was Lam Yin-chun, 13, a student at Yuen Long Public Secondary School, who developed acute myocarditis - or inflammation of the heart muscle - in late August and received a transplant after about a month.

Lam, an avid swimmer, is still recovering but made her first public appearance at yesterday's event.

"Though we cannot control death, we can leave the gift of life and extend others' life," said her father, Ronald Lam Wah-kun.

"I have high hopes about my daughter's life. I'm glad she was reborn."

Others, however, are not so lucky. About 20 per cent of the 310 patients with end-stage heart failure who were on the transplant waiting list died before receiving help.

"I believe if more people were willing to donate their organs after death, we could save more patients," said Health Secretary Dr Ko Wing-man, who said he just placed his name on the online Centralised Organ Donation Register set up by the Department of Health.

Currently, 17 patients are on the waiting list for a donor heart, the youngest being a three-year-old girl.