Organ donation is a gift of life that must be encouraged
ON Tuesday, Tee Hui Yee collapsed and died in Batu Pahat, Johor. It was the day she was supposed to start work as a kindergarten teacher and 10 days before her 19th birthday. It must be scant consolation to the grieving family that without the heart transplant she received at the National Heart Institute in Kuala Lumpur almost five years ago she would probably not have survived her 14th birthday. It's also cold comfort that she had another chance at life when her body did not reject the second donated heart as it did the first. It's certainly small solace that she lived longer than most transplant patients in this country. The country's first heart transplant recipient died within three years and only eight of the 19 that underwent a heart transplant between 1997 and 2009 were still alive at the end of the period, according to the Sixth Report of the National Transplant Registry (NTR).
Certainly, nothing can ease the personal pain. Nevertheless, the heart of the matter is that transplants have been a success. Recent advancements in surgical procedures and drugs have improved the chances of survival since the first transplant by Dr Christiaan Barnard in South Africa 45 years ago, where the patient died within 18 days. But while we should take heart from this encouraging prognosis, we should not lose sight of the fact that heart transplants in this country have been "few and far between" because of the "lack of success in obtaining viable donor organs", according to the NTR report.
It is indeed a tragedy that because donor hearts have been in short supply, patients who need transplants have to wait for a long time. In Hui Yee's case, it was more than a year. But though she did not live longer, she was one of the more fortunate ones. Others have died waiting in vain for a donated heart. To be sure, there has been a marked increase in pledges over the last two years as awareness grows on the importance of organ donation. On Thursday, 173 nursing trainee and instructors pledged to donate organs in Hui Yee's memory at an Organ Donation Awareness programme in Tawau, Sabah.
Though much has been done to raise awareness, there is a need to continue efforts to sensitise the public to the need to make available more life-saving organs for transplants. In the case of donated hearts, where a dead body is the source, they are truly a "gift of life" because it is in their deaths that the donors give other people a second chance in life.