Operation Santa Claus

Gloria's so grateful for charity that saved her life

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2012, 4:58am


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Gloria Cheng Pui-yan considered herself blessed to become the first child in Hong Kong to have a bone marrow transplant. More than 20 years on, her battle with cancer is long past, but she is still thankful to those who helped her.

Cheng was 13 years old when she was diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia. "We were told a bone marrow transplant was the only way to cure it, but it was not available in Hong Kong at the time," said Cheng, now 36.

The following year, in 1991, Dr Yuen Man-pan set up Hong Kong's first paediatric bone marrow transplant unit at the Prince of Wales Hospital.

Yuen, now 75, and honorary clinical professor of paediatrics at Chinese University, still recalls the joy his team felt when Cheng's transplant, using her sister's bone marrow, was a success.

"We were under so much pressure," he said. "It was the first case and we couldn't fail or it would affect morale."

Yuen spent two years raising funds to build the team and set up the unit. "We started from scratch, but then we received so many donations," he said.

In 1993, Operation Santa Claus (OSC) joined in the enthusiastic fundraising for the unit. So far, 393 children, aged from six months to 15, have received a transplant at the unit.

Part of the funding to establish the unit came from the Children's Cancer Foundation. From 1989 to 1991, the foundation was OSC's sole beneficiary. More than HK$10 million was raised by OSC in those three years.

Miami Wu Yi-yun, a governor of the foundation and its founding chairwoman, said: "We were astonished by the incredible support and generosity shown by the community towards the plight and suffering of childhood cancer patients and their families."

The donations also helped set up counselling services at the hospital, and halfway homes for recovering children in Sha Tin.

Cheng was among those who benefited from the services. "I got much comfort from counselling. There were people who cared for me. I learned to accept the disease," she said.

She was especially thankful to her mother, who stayed in the halfway home with her and looked after her. It is now Cheng's turn to take care of her mother, who has heart disease.

The Children's Cancer Foundation, established in 1989, has helped more than 2,500 children in the past two decades.

In 1991 the foundation's patron, Lady Gillian Ford, expressed her thoughts on the foundation's work and OSC's contribution: "It is sometimes said that Hong Kong is only interested in making money, but the success of this proves that when something touches our hearts, we are pretty good at giving it away too."