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The gift of life

By Zhang Yue (China Daily)

08:41, May 24, 2012

Li Suzhi gives a health checkup to a Tibetan girl during his rounds among villages in Tibet. Photos by Zhang Zhen / for China Daily

For 36 years, Li Suzhi has overcome the odds and the altitude to give health and hope to Tibetans. Zhang Yue reports in Lhasa.

When surgeon Li Suzhi first arrived in Lhasa, capital of the Tibetan autonomous region, in 1976, he thought to himself that it was a place of life and death. "My first week here was filled with headaches, difficulty breathing and throwing up, just like anyone else who first visits the plateau," Li says. In the following 36 years, Li worked with all his might to rescue people from sickness and death. He is now head of the General Hospital of the Tibet Military Command of the PLA and has helped with important breakthroughs in treating various high-altitude sicknesses and developed methods for performing surgeries at higher altitudes than previously possible.

As well as providing treatment at the hospital, the doctor makes his rounds among villages, where former patients often honor him by bending down and presenting him with a hada, a piece of silk that denotes respect.

"I had no idea he was the head of the hospital when he first came to see me," says Gesang Zhuoga, a 42-year-old, who was eventually hospitalized for congenital heart disease. "He saved my life by operating on me. He told me not to worry, and I could return home to pick caterpillar fungus and make money."

The 58-year-old doctor knows very little of the Tibetan language. Instead, he smiles, puts his hands together and pats patients who come to express their gratitude.

Many ill Tibetans choose to go to a temple rather than a hospital and pray for recovery, when they feel ill, which is where Li often finds patients on his rounds.

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