Organ donors a lifesaver for the lucky few

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 February, 2014, 2:32pm
UPDATED : Monday, 24 February, 2014, 4:01am

As Sam Lai Hin-sum lay in a hospital bed under intensive care in May, he knew he was just inches away from death's door.

It was 20 years ago when he started fighting liver cancer. Despite a round of treatments that had initially cleared the cancer, it returned with a vengeance. Lai required a new liver or he would not live. But the chances of finding a match were slim.

At the bedside was his wife, and together they made the decision to give his organs to those in need, if it came to that. "We are Buddhists and we believe in cause and effect. Everything happens for a reason," she said, recalling those tense two weeks in hospital.

Two days later, doctors found a donor and, in a 21-hour operation, he was given a new liver and a new life. "I may not know who they are. But I owe my life to the donor's family," Lai said. "I am so grateful."

Lai was one of the lucky few who found liver matches last year. Hospital Authority data shows 120 people left on the waiting list at the end of last year, when there were just 72 donations, down from 78 in 2012.

Prospects are more worrying for the 1,991 people waiting for new kidneys. Last year, there were just 82 donations. Meanwhile, 17 patients await heart donations and 18 need new lungs.

"One organ can save one life and thus, one family," said Chan See-ching, a professor at the University of Hong Kong's Department of Surgery and chief of liver transplants at Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam.

Most organs are donated with the consent of family members of patients who are on the verge of death. The authority is urging the public to consider signing up.

Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said the city had improved by leaps and bounds in terms of medical and surgical skills for transplants, but donations remained a hard topic to broach with the relatives of dying patients.