KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 28 — At the age when most of her peers would giggle over chats on boys and romance, Chew Hoong Ling chose to be involved with organ donation and she herself had pledged her eyes and organs for that purpose!
She was only 13 then, but young as she was there was no turning back once she made up her mind.
But ‘giving’ was a natural thing for this Kuala Lumpur-born Hoong Ling despite coming from a broken home.
Her parents were divorced when she was only four years old and for the next 16 years, she lived with her aunt (her father’s sister) in Teluk Intan, Perak.
As she did not have a normal home life like that of other children, Hoong Ling made herself busy by actively participating in various extra-curricular activities.
SERVICE ABOVE SELF
It was during her secondary education in SMK Convent, Teluk Intan that Hoong Ling began to nurture ‘her service above self’ acts though her passion for community work was at the expense of her performance in the SPM and STPM examinations.
Hoong Ling had straight As in her UPSR and PMR examinations as well as five distinctions in the SPM examination. Hoong Ling confessed that she was very much into social work because she wanted to follow the footsteps of her idol, social activist Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye.
Hoong Ling was particularly active in community work when she joined St John Ambulance where the organisation’s slogan is ‘Service to Mankind’.
When she joined the Interact Club, she was taught the principle of having “Service Above Self”. She said these two organisations had played a huge role in her growing up years.
Hoong Ling was also active in sports and whilst she was no sportswoman, she ended up managing her school house team, which eventually emerged champions.
In her mind children should be involved in extra-curricular activities because the experience had brought her to what she is today.
Such involvement gave Hoong Ling the opportunity to acquire not only leadership skills but also in management and presentation.
Her passion for community work continued to flourish even after she left school where she joined other social organisations.
“I end up joining to 12 organisations after I left school. Now when I reflect back I wonder where did I get the time and energy,” Hoong Ling, 29, told Bernama in an interview after the launching of her book ‘I Dont Know You But Let Me Save You’ in Taman Tun Dr Ismail here recently.
The 114-page book published by Zubedy Ideahouse Sdn Bhd is an account of her journey as a liver donor and also her passion and commitment to organ donation.
It also contained pledge forms and an organ donor temporary card. Both, according to Anas Zubedy who is Zubedy Ideahouse’s managing director, are the most expensive part of the book.
Hoong Ling stressed that her book is out to inspire Malaysians, in particular, to pledge their organs after death.
“If more people pledge their organs and more organs are available, there is no need for living organ donors anymore as this can create a lot of social problems besides the black market,” she said.
HOW IT BEGINS
Organ donation was not something that invoke interest to many people in the early 90s as the awareness level was also still very low.
Hoong Ling herself chanced upon organ donation when she got hold of a booklet produced by the Hilir Perak Buddhist Association.
One of the contents was the article on “The Joy of Giving” with mention of those who had pledged their organs including Ong Ai Ling, an 11-year old girl who pledged her eyes.
That, had made Hoong Ling of today and she is hoping to meet with this girl who had inspired her.
“I was 13 (then) and she was 11. If she can do it why can’t I? ” and that was the question rushing through Hoong Ling’s young mind after reading the girl’s story.
She eventually pledged her eyes and organs through the Malaysian Association for the Blind as at that time the National Transplant Resource Centre had yet to be established.
From then onwards, Hoong Ling began to initiate campaigns on organ donation, initially by putting up posters on her school’s notice board.
While she was doing her Form Six in SMK St Anthony, Teluk Intan Hoong Ling successfully organised a blood and organ donation campaign and her passion to champion such cause rocketed.
HELPING A STRANGER
About 16 years after she pledged her eyes and organs, Hoong Ling’s sincerity was tested upon responding to an email regarding some blood donation.
The email was actually from an aunt of a young cancer patient, Lee An Qi who was suffering from liver cancer at the age of 13.
“The email was forwarded to me and I thought it was seeking blood donation so I contacted the aunt, Alicia and she SMS me saying what they need was a liver donor,” explained Hoong Ling, adding that the concern then was that there was not much time left for An Qi.
Hoong Ling said her mind was in turmoil because as much as she was into organ donation, she had no inkling of idea on organ transplant.
She then approached her father, a graduate of Guangzhou University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, who asked her to go for a thorough test before she made any decision.
Unlike her father, her mom’s response was not so encouraging and the very words she uttered when Hoong Ling phoned and told her about wanting to donate her liver were ,”Are you crazy?”
Even her friend who has some knowledge about liver transplant questioned her desire to donate her liver, what more a total stranger.
However, deep in her heart Hoong Ling knew the time has come for her “to walk the talk”.
DESPITE THE PAIN
Hoong Ling went through a battery of tests and some painful ones too. The initial tests were conducted in a medical lab in Subang Jaya and it was during these tests that she was told she was born with only one kidney, the right one.
A week after the tests, Hoong Ling was told that she was a suitable donor for An Qi. More tests were subsequently conducted in Singapore.
The transplant was carried out at the Asia Centre for Liver Diseases and Transplantation (ACLDT) in the island republic on Jan 14, 2009. However An Qi died of lung infection at the age of 14, about eight months after the liver transplant.
Hoong Ling said she was in Melaka with some foreign friends when she received a call from Alicia informing her that An Qi was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
“Alicia told me that she just wanted to inform me but I sensed that the call was like telling me to please come if I want to see An Qi for the last time,” recalled Hoong Ling.
An Qi’s death, according to Hoong Ling, gave her the strength to continue to champion organ donation. She also did not regret her decision to donate her liver to An Qi even though she died about eight months after the liver transplant.
According to Hoong Ling, people often approached her especially during her organ donation talks, asking her how she arrived at the decision to donate her liver.
“It is difficult especially when you are talking about saving a life.
“A few volunteers had actually came forward wanting to donate their liver but all the tests did not match and that made me more wanting to donate.
Hoong Ling also said the process of writing her book “I Don’t Know You But Let Me Save You” has made her reflected on a lot of things.
“After all these reflections, I find that even making the decision to donate my liver was mind boggling,” said Hoong Ling who professed that she was very much healthier than before the liver transplant.
According to Hoong Ling, the human liver is the only organ that can grow back.
“Three to four months after the operation my liver has already grown back 80-90 per cent.
“In fact I feel stronger now. My health was not very good before the liver transplant. I had low blood pressure, gastric pains and flu every couple of months. Now, touch wood (knocking her fingers on the table) I have yet to see a doctor,” said a beaming Hoong Ling.
THE WAY FORWARD
Hoong Ling’s passion in spreading words on organ donation for the past 16 years has earned her many awards. The most outstanding was the Malaysian Women’s Weekly Great Women of Our Time Award 2008.
When asked whether she would donate her organs again, this is Hoong Ling’s reply:
“I cannot donate anything now. You can only donate your liver once and I cannot donate my kidney because I have only one.
“When I die however, they can take my organs. They can harvest those from my body,” said Hoong Ling who was also born hearing impaired on the left ear.
On her future plans, Hoong Ling who is fluent in Malay, English, Mandarin and Cantonese as well as some Tamil also performs as an emcee at various functions.
She also said she would like to set up a Social Entrepreneurship Centre on organ donation awareness campaign.
“Last June I was appointed a committee member of the Organ Donation Public Awareness Action Centre under the Ministry of Health Malaysia.
“This would allow me to promote organ donations on a larger scale,” said Hoong Ling. – Bernama