“Hongkong’s first kidney transplant patient was doing fine last night,” the South China Morning Post reported on January 10, 1969, after the colony’s first transplant operation a day earlier, at Queen Mary Hospital.
“Mr Ng Ho-bun, a 39-year-old employee of the Hongkong and Yaumati Ferry Co, Ltd, [underwent] a two-hour operation,” the story continued. “The parents of a 19-year-old girl who died in Queen Mary Hospital shortly before the operation consented to give the girl’s kidney to Mr Ng.”
An editorial the same day marked the medical milestone: “Those critics […] who seem to find nothing good about Hongkong might well consider the case of Mr Ng when they call us a backwater from which all talent flees. They might also recall the fact that the Colony has a unit equipped for open-heart surgery, and that last year three young girls – two from Australia and one from South Africa, both countries of impressive medical achievements – came all the way to Hong Kong for corrective spinal surgery.”
The parents of the donor were praised for a gesture that would help dispel the “prejudice and ignorance which only last year let a boy die for lack of a donor kidney”.
Doctors were taking no risks, and the Post reported on January 11 that Ng had “received massive doses of antibiotics against virus attacks”. The following day, his condition was pronounced “satisfactory”; he had woken up cheerful and eaten a bowl of porridge, a slice of toast and a cup of tea.
Regular progress reports followed and on March 25 came the headline, “HK’s first transplant patient goes home”. Ng returned to his Kowloon flat, where he lived with his school-aged son and younger brother.
The good news did not last, however. On May 27, 1970, a Post headline announced, “Kidney patient very ill”, and on May 31, Ng’s condition was described as “deteriorating”.
Time was up for Ng on June 2. The following day’s Post reported, “Death finally struck the 40-year-old ticket collector.”
Ng’s brother said the family was grateful to medical professionals. “All of us know the doctors and hospital authorities have done their best to save my brother’s life,” he said. “And Ho-bun was a man with a rugged mind – he fought against death until the end.”