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Heartfelt gifts of life

By Liu Dong (Global Times)

09:51, January 24, 2013

(Photo/Tianjin Medical University)

It was a heartbreaking tragedy for 9-year-old Yin Jialin and her parents. The bright young girl, who had a congenital heart disease, fell seriously ill last year and died in December, just after her birthday. But while her death broke her parents' hearts, it brought a special gift to someone else in Shanghai. A year before the little girl had decided to donate her corneas and these were transplanted to two young blind children, giving them sight.

Yin's mother was a doctor and knew well that her daughter had a little chance of living a full life when she was born, but she wanted her daughter to enjoy as much of life as possible.

"We sent her to kindergarten and school for a month because we wanted her to have the experience of school friends and teachers," the mother said. Yin loved the experience and in 2008, when she saw the children who had lost families and schools in the Sichuan earthquake, she donated what she could. When she learned that blind children could see again if people donated their corneas, she told her parents that was what she wanted to do.

She pushed her parents until eventually they went to the Shanghai Branch of the Red Cross Society of China to get cornea donation application forms. They filled in the forms but were reluctant to actually forward these until Yin became seriously ill late last year. Yin's mother has also decided to become a donor.

Cornea transplants can cure blindness. The cornea bank run by the Shanghai Red Cross said that in recent years, around 1,200 blind people register hoping for a transplant every year, but less than 2 percent of those waiting will actually receive a new cornea.

Slim chances

According to Shanghai Red Cross, by September 2012, there had been 4,751 registered cornea donors in Shanghai and a total 63 have died and had their corneas transplanted to others. But there are thousands of dying patients waiting for other organ transplants to save their lives. The chances for most are very slim.

In 2007, the Ministry of Health (MOH) revealed that there were some 1.5 million patients in China awaiting organs every year but only 10,000 will get transplants. It's a yawning gap - China has more people than any other country in the world waiting for organ transplants but there are few donors.

There are two types of organ transplants that can be carried out. Living people can donate a kidney or part of the liver, lung, intestine, pancreas, bone marrow, or blood. Other organs can be harvested from the dead.

Beijing's Century Weekly magazine has reported that China is the only country in the world that regularly transplants organs from executed prisoners. According to the 2009 figures from the MOH, up to 90 percent of the organs used in transplants in China were taken from executed prisoners.

In Shanghai, 95 percent of the transplant organs come from hospitals and prisons in other provinces. The situation is far from sustainable, the Shanghai Municipal Health Bureau notes.

Shanghai first established a body donation system in 1982 and by September 2012 there had been 28,381 registered donors. But in the early days Shanghai laws only allowed donated bodies to be used for medical research and teaching.

Most patients who need live organ transplants can only seek help from their families. The shortage of available organs has become a major problem.

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