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by Karen Arukesamy

PETALING JAYA (Sept 22, 2009): Eight months after successfully undergoing a liver transplant operation, Lee An Qi, 13, died on Sunday due to lung infection.

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Chew Hoong Ling

An Qi, who was diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma or cancer of the liver last October, had received a liver from a live donor Chew Hoong Ling, 29, — an organ donation activist.

The transplant was conducted at Singapore Glenmarie Hospital on Jan 14, two months after Chew contacted An Qi’s family to offer her liver.

Speaking to theSun after An Qi’s funeral today, Chew was saddened by the young girl’s sudden death, within 48 hours of having breathing difficulty and lung infection, after surpassing the tough hurdle of the transplant itself.

She said An Qi, the second child in the family, recovered from the transplant and was healthy, but her immune system was weak because of the chemotherapy and anti-rejection medicine for her new liver.

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With An Qi after the liver transplant

“I received a call from An Qi’s aunt, Alicia, at 6pm on Saturday, informing me that An Qi was in the Intensive Care Unit because of lung infection,” said Chew.

It was only then that she found out that An Qi had been diagnosed with bone cancer in June and was again going through the tough routine of chemotherapy.

“Following her death, several people told me my effort of going through the major surgery was in vain because she died of lung infection while having bone cancer,” said Chew, who donated 60% of her liver (500g) for the transplant.

“But I don’t think so. I know that I have done my best. And there are others who are of the view that I have given An Qi eight months of life, and a lifetime of hope for everyone else.”

Relating how it all started, Chew said she had found out about An Qi’s condition via a forwarded e-mail in October last year.

She had responded to the email, mistaking it for an appeal for blood donation, only to later learn that it was for liver donation.

“An Qi was young yet she was the strongest person I have ever met,” Chew recalled.

“Despite being diagnosed with liver cancer and fighting for survival, she was never frail and always kept cheerful and playful,” Chew said.

She said An Qi spent most of her hospitalisation period playing computer games.

“We shared a close bond together after the transplant,” said Chew.

Relating her experience in being a live donor, Chew said she battled with “mixed feelings” in her mind about being a live donor, knowing it could cause a lot of side effects, if not death.

“Many people told me I was very brave to do what I did, but deep inside I was not” she said, adding she grew more anxious as the surgery date drew near.

“At one stage, I was event doubtful; I did not know if I had made the right decision (to be a live donor) but looking at An Qi who was suffering such a serious disease at a very young age, I pushed myself to do it,” Chew recalled.

She also recalled that when she first signed an organ donation pledge form at age 13, she had told herself that she would also donate organ if someone needs it even when she is still alive.

The former Selamat Pagi Malaysia host, learnt and was inspired to donate her organs at 13 after reading a book on organ and blood donation.

She successfully conducted her first campaign championing organ donation when she was Form Six in 1999.

Chew lamented that there is a lack of awareness amongst people about organ donation, so being an organ donation activist, she conducted several campaigns to create awareness and promote organ donation.

“In my business card, I have also state ‘Organ Donation Activist’ and this often acts as a coversation starter.

“When people ask me if I have pledged my organs; I tell them I have donated one,” she said, adding that walking the talk helps a lot, as she has found more people showing an  interest in finding out about organ donations, and how to go about pledging theirs.

“If everyone reading this news can pledge their organs, it will be my biggest achievement,” said Chew who is currently writing a book on organ donation, which will be launched next year on Jan 14 — the date she donated her liver to An Qi.

To know more about organ donation or to obtain an organ pledge form, visit www.hoongling.com  or email Chew at hoongling@hoongling.com

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