I want to save him, says S'pore woman who offers to donate liver to stranger
"Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
A poet named John Donne wrote this hundreds of years ago.
Miss Regina Lee, 26, may not know him or this piece of writing, but it describes why she did what she did. She wants to donate part of her liver to a stranger.
To understand how big a move this is, let us put it in context.
When you are in an MRT train, take a look at the people around you. If someone points a finger at a man and tells you he is dying, would you go through an operation, facing danger and pain, to save him?
Would you, like Miss Lee, say: "I want him to live on for his family."
She first heard about Mr Ang Yong Hong, 52, about a week ago when she read a Lianhe Wanbao report about an appeal for donors. The link to the report was posted on a WhatsApp group chat by a friend.
Since her Chinese is weak, she got a friend to translate the report for her.
Doctors have told Mr Ang that he has little time left unless he gets a liver transplant.
Until he became too ill, he worked two jobs, as a cook at a vegetarian stall and a taxi driver, to support his wife and two children.
The Lianhe Wanbao report included an appeal for anyone with the blood type B or O.
"My blood type is B and I am also at the right age to donate organs. It must be fate," said the nursing lecturer.
"Right away, I decided that I want to save him, if I can."
So why help someone she doesn't know? It's because she understands the pain of losing a loved one, she said.
SCHOOL BUS ACCIDENT
When she was 19, she saw an eight-year-old boy die from his wounds.
He had been involved in a school bus accident, and she was then serving her nursing internship at the hospital where he had been taken to.
Said Miss Lee, visibly upset: "Oh, I still remember the cries of the parents at the hospital. It's very chilling."
The death reminded her that "life was precious" and made her think about her own mother, who has bone cancer.
"She's had it since I was two. I'm thankful that she hasn't had a relapse, but I realise that even the slightest chance of losing a family member can be unbearable," she said.
"I guess you could say that I empathise with Mr Ang and his family."
She contacted Mr Ang's wife, Madam Maggie Fong, to tell her that she wanted to help.
Said Miss Lee: "She was very appreciative of my offer. She thanked me again and again."
Miss Lee stressed that although she has the right blood type and is at the optimum age, she still has to undergo several matching tests before the donation can proceed.
"I think we all don't want to be too optimistic yet, because ultimately I might not be the right person."
When The New Paper contacted Madam Fong, the 44-year-old said her family is holding back its expectations as she understands that a complete match is not common.
She said in Mandarin: "We've asked everyone we know, from friends to relatives, but there have been no matches so far. Everyone is very worried; we can't lose him."
Apart from Miss Lee, two others have contacted the Ang family to offer part of their livers.
All three have started to go for tests to see if they are a match.
But the family is still "desperately looking" for more suitable donors.
"We've been praying and praying for people to come forward," said a distraught Madam Fong.
The Ang family has not met any of the potential donors face to face and Miss Lee intends to keep it that way.
Said Miss Lee: "I understand that donors should not meet the recipient because of certain laws. They are complete strangers to me."
When her family discovered that she had volunteered to go for the tests, they were unhappy that she did not consult them.
"When my mum found out about my decision in the papers (Miss Lee was interviewed in a Shin Min Daily News report last week), she said she would forbid me from doing it.
"But now my family has realised that I'm doing something good and they are just starting to accept it," she said.
There might be side effects from donating part of her liver and the operation also carries certain risks.
But they do not faze her.
"I know it's a complicated procedure, but one step at a time. First thing is to find out if I'm suitable."
Miss Lee is appealing for more people to step forward as liver donors for Mr Ang.
"If I can't do it, I hope someone else can."
'We've tried everything... Facebook, Twitter'
DESPERATE: Mr Ang Yong Hong with his wife Madam Maggie Fong and his son.
About three weeks ago, doctors gave Mr Ang Yong Hong two months to live.
Unless he could find a suitable liver donor within that time, he would only have about a month left, said his wife, Madam Maggie Fong, 44.
"We need him," said Madam Fong of her husband, who is battling a form of liver failure.
"He's a good husband and father to our two children (aged 16 and 18), I can't lose him like that," she added, her voice cracking on the phone.
Mr Ang, 52, who holds two jobs, is the main breadwinner in the family.
From 4am to 1pm, he works as a cook at a vegetarian stall in Yishun.
He goes home to rest for three hours, before heading out again to work from 4pm to midnight as a relief taxi driver.
Madam Fong, who helps out at the stall, said: "It's a tough life, but he does it without complaint."
Her husband has always taken care of himself and gone for frequent medical check-ups, especially since he was diagnosed with hepatitis B in 2010, she said.
But last year, he noticed a lump in his stomach area.
"It just kept growing and growing. It seems like when he touches it, it grows even more," recalled Madam Fong.
He also began to feel weaker and his legs started swelling.
Eventually, it became too painful for him to work. He went to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, where he found out that his liver had failed and that he needed a transplant.
Since getting discharged, Mr Ang has been resting at home.
Madam Fong said: "We've tried everything. My children tried Facebook and Twitter. I've asked all my relatives. I feel so helpless."
ABOUT LIVER TRANSPLANTS
What is required for a match?
The donor and the recipient should be about the same body size and have a compatible blood type, said Professor K.K. Madhavan, director of the National University Centre for Organ Transplantation's Liver Transplant Programme.
They will also have to undergo blood tests, X-rays and scans to assess their suitability.
During testing, is it common to get a match?
"Usually one in three will be suitable," said Prof Madhavan, adding that prospective donors should be healthy, with no illness and medication history.
When a match is found, what sort of risk is present for the donor?
Despite great care taken by doctors, some donors have, unfortunately, died from complications after liver donation, with an overall risk of death at less than 0.5 per cent worldwide, said Dr Cheow Peng Chung, director of the Liver Transplant Service at Singapore General Hospital.
"The possibility of complications is 20 per cent to 40 per cent, but most of these complications are minor."
Prof Madhavan said this risk will be discussed with the donor and recipient before surgery.
He added: "Those who are found to be suitable will be further assessed by a National Transplant Ethics Committee, who will decide whether a transplant will be allowed to take place."
What is the current availability of livers today?
There are only six livers per million people in Singapore, said Prof Madhavan.
This is compared to the about 50 persons in Singapore waiting for a suitable liver, said Dr Cheow.
He added: "The waiting list is not as long as that for a kidney transplant, as patients who do not manage to get a liver transplant in time generally die from their illness."