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Spirit of Hong Kong

Transplant athlete an inspiration to donors and recipients

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 October, 2013, 3:16pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 12:19pm

So Tsz-ling turns and tiptoes to give her mum Penny Poon Wai-fong a kiss on the cheek. Mum blushes and giggles at the gesture.

Together, mother, 48, and daughter, 12, share a unique bond. Tsz-ling, born with a liver defect, was the recipient of an organ transplant when she was a little over seven months old. Thanks to Poon, who donated a third of her liver, Tsz-ling is a fighing fit, energetic girl.

“l’ve always been active,” says Tsz-ling. She says she was determined that nothing would hold her back from being like any other healthy young child.

Tsz-ling’s story is an extraordinary one of modern medicine and a mother’s overwhelming love for her child. Not only has Tsz-ling grown up healthy and fit, she’s also become a successful athlete. 

At the World Transplant Games, held this year from July 28 to August 4, in Durban, South Africa, Tsz-ling led a triumphant Hong Kong team home. She was the youngest competitor at the games and yet she bagged three golds, in the sprint, long jump and bowling; a silver in swimming and a bronze in badminton.

But she’s far from satisfied with that. The ambitious sport lover’s next target is gold medal in swimming after missing out on top of the podium position.

Tsz-ling says she was first introduced to the Hong Kong Transplant Sports Association (HKTSA) by her friend who also had a transplant. Back then, the HKTSA was looking for possible competitors to be sporting ambassadors at various competitions worldwide.

“I found the association fun and enjoyable. At least I could exercise,” Tsz-ling says.  Based on her interests, she plumped for running first, and now she excels in the 1,500 metre run. “But it doesn’t matter what I play, it is all really fun.”

She says she feels like any other blossoming teenager.

“Even if you’ve had a transplant, it’s great that you can go on to live a healthy life,” Tsz-ling says.

Despite her medal-winning abilities, she’s modest about her sporting prowess and ambitions. “I’m not thinking about the Olympics,” she says, “I wouldn’t think that far ahead.”

Her ambitions lie not on the track, but on stage with a microphone. “I want to be a singer and entertainer,” she says.   Poon says she would support her in her endeavours.  “It’s all girls dream about,” she says.

“Playing sports is just for fun,” Tsz-ling insists. But she promises: “I will be competing more and more in the future.”

Her first transplant games took her to Hangzhou, Zhejiang province in July 2012. There she joined with her mum, who had also been through the ordeal of a liver operation, to run a special transplant donor and recipient relay race.

Both were recognised for their contribution to saving lives and promoting organ donation.

HKTSA chairman Anthony Wong Chi-keung says because Tsz-ling had her transplant so young, she was lucky enough to recover quickly. 

The HKTSA,  founded in 2006, is a self-funded organisation reliant on monetary donations. It currently receives no government funding.  It means that not all members can afford to go abroad to compete, whether in China or South Africa because competitors have to foot the bill themselves.