A Gift of Hope
Portraits of Marrow Donors (mirror of http://taipei.tzuchi.org.tw/tzquart/98fall/qf98-17.htm)
By Yang Chien-jung
Translated by Norman Yuan

Most marrow donors consider donating bone marrow as simple as donating blood. But in Taiwan, where the concept of donating marrow has not yet been completely accepted, bone marrow donation is not only an act of courage, but also a virtue.

Some people may doubt the percentage of successful bone marrow transplants; however, in the medical field today, a bone marrow transplant is still the only chance for blood cancer patients. When a physician suggested a marrow transplant for Lin Chia-jung, who was afflicted with chronic myelocytic leukemia, her parents were hesitant. After all, having a transplant was gambling with Chia-jung's life. A recent marrow transplant attempted in the same hospital ward had failed. However, after they read an American magazine article about marrow transplant, they suddenly realized that their daughter should not wait any longer. She was very lucky to have found someone with a matching human leukocyte antigen (HLA) type in the Tzu Chi Marrow Donor Registry. Many patients are not so fortunate.

The mother of Tung Cheng-hsin, who had serious thalassemia, said that even when they had found a compatible donor, they still could not help worrying about whether the donor would get cold feet at the last minute. Fortunately, that did not happen. Cheng-hsin repeatedly told his mother that he would like to meet the donor.

By the end of April 1998, the Tzu Chi Marrow Donor Registry had completed eighty-five transplants. On April 19, Tzu Chi again arranged the annual meeting between donors and recipients who had received transplants at least one year before. Whatever the outcome of the transplant, the donors received nothing but the gratitude of the families of the recipients and the commendation of the audience for their great kindness and courage.

Ho Jen-chieh: I've Gained Another Daughter

One day in 1996, Ho Jen-chieh, who had registered at a blood test drive in Taoyuan, received notification from the Tzu Chi Marrow Donor Registry that his HLA type had been matched to that of a blood cancer patient and he was to become Tzu Chi's forty-eighth donor. At that moment, he was hesitant. He didn't know how to tell his wife, who was six months pregnant. As a matter of fact, he had sneaked out to go to the blood test drive.

"To give someone the light of hope is an infinite merit," he said as he tried very hard to persuade his wife. "We should not blow out that light or take it away after that person has already seen it. It is not good to first give people hope and then disappointment." "What should I do if something happens to you?" she worried. "Life is unpredictable. I could as easily have an accident. It all depends on fate. So don't worry so much."

Actually, Jen-chieh himself was somewhat worried. He had never been in the hospital before. However, he remembered that he had made many wishes in his childhood, but none of them had ever come true. Now that he had the chance to help a blood cancer patient, he could fulfill that person's greatest wish: "Let me live!" This was something he was pleased to do.

So as not to let his parents worry about him, Jen-chieh went quietly to the hospital for the marrow extraction procedure. After he returned home from the hospital, he often wondered why his parents frequently brought him nourishing meals. He later found out that they already knew the truth. Instead of disapproving of his action, they prepared the meals for him to show their support.

Lin Chia-jung's parents told Jen-chieh that not only had their little daughter regained her health after the marrow transplant, but also her straight hair had become curly just like his. Jen-chieh couldn't help smiling. He felt as if he had gained another daughter.

Lin Chiu-hua: The Most Glorious Thing in My Life

People are often curious as to why donors would want to give their marrow to total strangers. After Lin Chiu-hua, the forty-fifth donor, had her marrow extracted, her sister asked her if the recipient had given her a million dollars. "Love cannot be measured with money," she replied.

In fact, Chiu-hua put a lot of effort into persuading her family members to agree with what she was going to do. When the Tzu Chi Marrow Donor Registry first phoned her, she could not make heads or tails of the call. She thought she had forgotten to pay her monthly donation to the Tzu Chi Foundation. When she realized that the call was coming from Tzu Chi Hospital, she asked with alarm if something had happened to one of her family members. When she finally realized that her HLA type had been matched with that of a patient, she was so exhilarated that she kept asking, "Really? Is it true?" Then she said, "Certainly I will do it."

However, on her way back home after work that day, her mind was filled with mixed feelings. How was she going to explain this to her husband? As she had expected, his face immediately became serious when she told him what was going to happen. He said to her, "This is something very unusual. You have to think about it very clearly and carefully."

Although her husband was finally persuaded, none of the other people around her approved of her plan. However, Chiu-hua was determined. She even prayed to Kuan Yin, the Great Compassion Bodhisattva, to bless the recipient. She thought, "Donating my marrow is the most glorious thing I have ever done."

Yu Hui-ting: If I Don't Save Her, I Will Never Forgive Myself

The same thing happened to Yu Hui-ting, the sixtieth donor. Her determination to donate her marrow aroused strong objections from her husband and her mother-in-law. Still she thought, "I know that I am the only one who can save her. If I don't, I'll never forgive myself." She asked the Tzu Chi marrow donation care team to arrange to have previous donors try to convince her family, and she also asked her brothers and sisters to help persuade them. However, nothing worked. Finally, she had to beg her uncle, Pan Yu-yi, a Tzu Chi honorable board member, to help. He gave his personal guarantee to her family. "Absolutely nothing will happen to her. If anything should happen, I'll be responsible for it." Finally, her parents' attitude softened, but they had one condition-her uncle had to stay with her though the whole process to see that no mistakes were made.

Now it was Mr. Pan's turn to get nervous. The extraction was to take place at Tzu Chi Hospital. He stayed in the Abode of Still Thoughts the previous night, but he couldn't fall asleep. Unable to wait until 3:50 a.m., when everyone at the Abode rises for morning prayers, he got up, jumped into a taxi and told the driver to take him to Tzu Chi Hospital right away. At 7:00, when Hui-ting was pushed into the operation room, Mr. Pan was so worried that he shed tears. Three hours later, Hui-ting was moved to the recovery room, where she saw her uncle almost collapse. She then realized how much pressure had been on his shoulders.

Her marrow was to be sent to Canada to save a two-year-old girl named Emma. The little girl's parents had appealed to the mass media to ask for help. They searched the marrow donor registries in Canada and the United States, and even in Harbin, their hometown in mainland China, but all in vain. Finally they found a donor with the matching HLA type in the Tzu Chi Marrow Donor Registry in Taiwan. On the day of the annual meeting, when Pan Yu-yi saw the touching meetings between donors and recipients and a videotape of healthy little Emma, he was bathed in tears. He went up on the stage and said to the audience, "I think I did the right thing to give a guarantee to my niece, Hui-ting." He added humorously, "I wouldn't suggest that any of you do the same thing, though."

Peng Kuang-ming: Regular Exercise to Keep Healthy

In order to donate healthy marrow to save people, donors think of different ways to stay healthy. In their minds, their bodies no longer belong only to themselves because other lives are also involved.

Peng Kuang-ming, the fifty-fourth donor, was a member of the marrow donation care team. He had taken care of other donors, but now it was his own turn to donate. He very happily requested the registry to arrange for the transplant as soon as possible. Each day he did his regular exercises. "I want to keep my blood cells in the best condition," he smiled.

In the hospital before the operation, he took every opportunity to exercise. His healthy looks raised the eyebrows of other patients in the hospital.

After the operation, Kuang-ming woke up and asked the nurse, "Didn't I come to donate my marrow? Why are you pushing me back to my room?" The nurse smiled and said, "It's all done!"

Yang Chen-yung: Please Extract My Marrow First Because It Can Save a Life.

Yang Chen-yung, the forty-seventh donor, was a college student just over the age of twenty. When he learned that he had the opportunity to save someone's life, he began to worry that he didn't have sufficient hemoglobin and that he weighed too little. Therefore, he ate all kinds of food, trying to build up his skinny body. He even wrote on his driver's license: "If an accident should happen to me, please let the doctor extract my bone marrow first because it can save a life."

When he found out that the recipient had still succumbed to the disease, he cried again and again. Through the hospital social workers, he sent the recipient's brother a card on which he wrote: "I am so sorry, I failed to accomplish the mission."

During the meeting, when the recipient's parents presented him with a bouquet, Chen-yung could no longer control his tears. He said to them, "I am so sorry. I gave you hope, but then I let you down." The parents said that their whole family was grateful to Yang Chen-yung because he had been a beacon of hope for them. "Our son once said that if he recovered, he would come personally to thank you. It's a pity that he doesn't have the chance..."

Liao Chun-fa:
I Hope My HLA Type Will Match That of Another Patient

Many people think that donating marrow requires great courage, and so they give donors high commendations. Yet most marrow donors think that donating marrow is as natural as donating blood. Liao Chun-fa, the fifty-first donor, remarked, "Even now I am still very grateful that my parents gave me a strong body so that I could do good deeds. I hope that my HLA type will again match that of another patient."

The mother of one recipient said that while her child was in the hospital, on the next bed was another blood cancer patient whose HLA type was matched by that of his own brother. However, the brother would not donate his marrow unless the patient would give him half his wealth. Because of that, the mother was even more grateful to the donor for the unselfish love that he gave to her child.

Chen Chin-lung: Donated Bone Marrow and Platelets.

"When my son was sick, our home was no longer like a home..." The weak voice of a recipient's father revealed the bitterness suffered by the family of a blood cancer patient. Almost all the family members had to put aside their work to look after the patient. The family finances thus fell into dire straits.

"Mom, can I live just a little longer?" ten-year-old Huang Shang-chen feebly asked his mother three days before he passed away. The whole family clung to each other in tears.

When Shang-chen was suddenly afflicted with malignant lymphoma, Mr. Huang left his job in South Africa and came back to Taiwan to stay with Shang-chen, his youngest son. The doctor suggested a marrow transplant, but no one in the family had a matching HLA type. Mr. Huang took the train to Hualien, dashed to the sanctuary on the third floor of Tzu Chi Hospital and prayed to the bodhisattva. Unbelievably he found a compatible donor the same day he submitted the application. That donor was Chen Chin-lung, Tzu Chi's sixty-first donor. After the transplant, Shang-chen's blood had a deficiency of platelets. Without any hesitation, Chin-lung went back to the hospital to donate his blood.

At the annual meeting, Mr. Huang said quietly, "My youngest son was supposed to be one of the major participants today. But he is absent, because he has gone to study in another world." After Shang-chen passed away, everyone in his family decided to donate their marrow to others who needed it. "My youngest son was very lucky because so many people were willing to help him. Our gratitude is unlimited."

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