On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Have a heart, Malaysia

For a year, she was known as the girl seen lugging a 9kg battery pack to power her mechanical heart. The battery pack resembled an overweight schoolbag.  

She had literally given up hope but God, as we say, has His way and timing. Two hearts in two days – it’s nothing short of a miracle. In her case, two miracles.  

And thanks to the team at the National Heart Institute, Malaysian Air Force personnel who flew the two hearts to Kuala Lumpur, and many others, Hui Yi is getting another chance at living. I salute and congratulate everyone who made it happen. 

Regardless of their race, Malaysians all want her condition to improve after her second heart transplant at the National Heart Institute.  

The dedicated 34-member team headed by chief cardiothoracic surgeon Datuk Dr Mohd Azhari Yakub fought against time to save Hui Yi after her body rejected the first heart.  

The 1.30am operation lasted six-and-a-half hours, finally ending at 8am. The first transplant operation on Wednesday lasted 10½ hours.  

Touching hearts 

Her condition may be stable following her successful operation but she remains in critical condition. Hui Yi still needs plenty of prayers for her to pull through.  

Hui Yi’s case has touched the hearts of many Malaysians for other reasons: it was Utusan Malaysia, a Malay language newspaper, which pushed hard for her case, just when other newspapers were losing interest as they took on new issues.  

Second, a Malay boy’s family agreed to donate his heart to Hui Yi, believing that it was the right thing to do.  

That simple act transcended race and religion and reaffirms the fact that all human beings are the same.  

Two years ago, Muhammad Fikri Nor Azmi, then 15, underwent a heart transplant and the donor was a non-Malay. Today, the country’s first mechanical heart patient is a healthy teenager. 

In times of difficulties, Malaysians have always risen to the occasion and this has been proven again and again. Almost daily, on our streets, we find Malaysians helping each other in accidents or simply to remove stalled cars, without being racially prejudiced.  

In many ways, our politicians need to take a leaf from ordinary wage-earning Malaysians, who are not lobbying for contracts, awards or positions. Race has never been an issue.  

The team of IJN doctors are also almost all Malays except for two Chinese and three Indians, assisted by four people from the Institute of Respiratory Medicine and 17 paramedics. It is a testimony that Malaysian doctors are capable and efficient.  

As we celebrate the success of the second operation, we must be mindful that two lives have been lost. The first was a 15-year-old boy, who was involved in a fatal road accident in Sitiawan, Perak. The second donor, Chin Yoon Koon, 20, died, also in an accident, in Johor Baru.  

There is also an important lesson for all of us to learn – many Malaysians are waiting for an organ transplant, not necessarily just the heart. There’s a long queue and not enough Malaysians are prepared to sign up for a good cause.  

It is important for hospitals to carry out campaigns now to get Malaysians to donate their organs; this is the time, when public awareness is at its height.  

Sri Lanka, for example, has the largest number of cornea donors and, over the last 30 years, the country’s Eye Bank has sent over 30,000 sight-restoring corneas to surgeons in 60 countries.  

This is possible because oblation of one’s body is a Sri Lankan cultural-religious tradition with an average of 15 to 20 people filling up forms for eye donation every day. The result is that the country has stock in excess of the country’s needs.  

Religious groups obviously play a huge role in human tissue donation as clerics, priests and monks are respected and their congregation often respond to such social concern calls.  

Vital first step 

For example, it is well known that Malays make up the largest number of blood donors and during the fasting month, the supply in hospitals drop. Churches and temples can respond to this need by organising campaigns for the faithful to donate blood.  

The fact is that more Malaysians must be willing to pledge to donate their hearts, kidneys, livers, pancreas and other body parts because the percentage of registered donors is very much lower than that in other countries.  

Spain, Norway, the United Kingdom, France and Canada are among the biggest human tissue donors in the world. Countries with successful programmes allow donors to have explicit consent on their driving licences to ensure quick time for hospitals to respond.  

This is something that can be easily incorporated into our MyKad or even our normal licences with the support of Pos Malaysia.  

There is little point in saying how caring we are if many of us are not willing to take the first step – fill up the forms for organ transplants.  

As it is now, there are only 108,000 of us on the National Transplant Registry. Such forms should be made easily available to the public. It is important we all have a heart for those in need.