By Zhang Dan and Fan Lingzhi, Global Times
Peter Hancock turned on the light in the bedroom of his son, Phillip Andrew Hancock. There stood a guitar at the corner of the room. Unfortunately, there will be no music from its owner.
In a picture on the wall, Phillip is holding a panda with smile.
The 27-year-old Australian fell ill and died in the city of Chongqing on May 9. He donated his liver, kidneys and corneas, saving five Chinese lives and becoming the first foreign organ donor in the city.
He is one of the 10 foreign organ donors across the country so far, according to the China Organ Transplantation Development Foundation, which is responsible for approaching the relatives of potential donors and constructing a transparent and ethical organ distribution system. The 10 donors came from the US, Britain, Australia, Japan, Philippines, France and Greece.
Though China has one of the lowest rates of organ donation in the world, the number of donation has increased to 19,380 by September 9, with 54,956 organs donated, according to the official website of the China Organ Donation Administrative Center.
“The great behavior of foreign organ donors reflects the world’s high recognition of China’s organ donation and transplants,” Huang Jiefu, head of the China’s National Human Organ Donation and Transplant Committee, told the Global Times.
Phillip had lived in China for four years as an English teacher at Southwest University. He was interested in Chinese culture when he was in Australia and always hoped he could become a teacher in China, his parents told the Global Times.
However, the young man fell ill from diabetes-related complications unexpectedly this May.
When the family flew to Chongqing, they saw him lying on the bed in the hospital living on life support.
“It’s sort of hard to accept that when we were there, even though he was still breathing and still warm, he was gone,” Peter Hancock told the Global Times while his wife Penny was tearing up. “It’s hard to accept that he wasn’t going to survive. And we had to ask the doctor many times, are they really sure.”
After doing tests in different hospitals, doctors at the First Affiliated Hospital of Chongqing Medical University told the family evidence showed Phillip had lost brain function. Even if he was on life support, his organs would not have survived more than nine or 10 days.
“Phil always said if somehow he got into that situation, where he wasn’t going to survive, he would like to donate his organs if he possibly could,” the father said.
In order to respect the wishes of Phillip, the family decided to donate his organs to save others.
The father received a voice recording from one of the organ recipients in China with the help of the local Red Cross Society, because China’s rules do not allow them to contact each other.
“He told us after the surgery was done, they were doing well…He was grateful for what happened. We just hope they are living a full life now,” Peter Hancock said, adding that people should discuss organ donation with their family if they are unhealthy.
“If you can save somebody’s life by donating, and if you know there is no hope for survival, then why not do it? Because it’s pointless to take them with you,” he added. “We’ve helped five Chinese people to live normal and healthy lives. I know Phil would be happy.”
The Hancock family is invited back to Chongqing during next Tomb-Sweeping Day. The local Red Cross society is carving a picture of Phillip on a piece of marble as a memorial.
As Peter Hancock said, few people talk about organ donation when they are alive, especially in China.
A traditional belief that requires bodies to remain intact after death has a pervasive influence among Chinese.
But Wang Hong’s mother has gradually changed her attitude toward organ donation, after her British son-in-law, Mark Terence Osborne, donated his corneas, kidneys, heart and liver, and saved six Chinese people.
After over three months to process her husband’s situation, on the day of their engagement anniversary in June, 2016, Wang Hong decided to donate her husband’s organs and signed papers in a hospital in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province.
“I had strong support from my husband’s daughter and brother in Britain. Mark’s mother had lived another 20 years with the help of a heart donation,” Wang said with tears in eyes. “The British believe they will get together in the heaven one day.”
However, her 70-year-old mother found organ donation hard to accept at first. Her mother felt uncomfortable and full of regret because she thought her son-in-law was “incomplete” as he left this world, Wang said.
“But when she saw news about organ donors on television, she would say, ‘My son-in-law did the same!’ She must feel proud and comforted sometimes now,” Wang added.
In 2017, 5,146 organ donations were made in China. Some 86 percent of the organs came from donations and the other 14 percent came from living relatives, the China Organ Transplantation Development Foundation said.
Liu Yu, a doctor specializing in organ transplants, did the surgery for China’s first foreign organ donor, in Beijing, in 2014.
Tiana, a seven-month-old baby from the US, choked on a piece of plastic while playing at home on April 9, 2014. After attempting to rescue the child with great efforts, doctors failed.
Grieving over their daughter’s death, Tiana’s parents offered to donate her organs, in order to help other people.
Before the transplant, Liu went to buy a set of new clothes for Tiana in a shopping mall close to the hospital. “The child was staying in an intensive care unit and wore nothing. She should leave with dignity,” Liu said, recalling his heavy mood during the afternoon of the surgery.
All machines were settled in the operating room. Before the surgery, doctors and nurses observed a moment of silence to show tribute to the little organ donor.
Tiana donated her liver, kidneys and corneas on that day and saved three Chinese children.
“What impressed me most were her eyes. She seemed to be asleep,” Liu said. “Her mother hugged her and kissed her, trying to control her emotion.”
In the same year, reforms of organ donation and transplants in China were taking place.
Huang announced in December 2014 that from 2015, organ donations from common people would become the only legitimate source of organ transplants.
Talking about whether there is any difference between domestic organ donors and foreign organ donors, Huang said the process of donation is exactly the same.
“The China Organ Transplantation Development Foundation will send formal thank you letter to foreign governments, which is also meaningful to promote the friendship between the people in the two nations,” he noted, adding the progress of China’s organ donation and transplants could not have been achieved without the law-based governance of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
In late May, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “Thank you, China!” in Chinese to Huang after an event at the 71st World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, which also showed China has earned international recognition in the field of organ donation and transplants.
Hong Junling, vice chairman of the foundation, echoed Huang, saying 10 is not a small number considering the big picture and proportion of foreigners who suffered accidents in China. “A drop of water can reflect the sun’s glare,” he said, depicting the behavior showing great love by foreign organ donors.
“China has entered a new era for organ transplants and the country is willing to share its experience with the world,” Huang stressed, adding he was grateful for the trust and support of foreign organ donors and their families.
“They not only saved Chinese patients who suffered from organ failure, but also brought hope and confidence to promote friendship and peace across countries, and for the world’s citizens to pursue a better life,” he said.