/Su-lan Yeh (Malaysia), Wen-chuang Cheng
Translated by Alice Chang
Kenna, an Indian descendent from Malaysia, dragged his swollen right foot which had been suffered from lymphedema for fifteen years and checked into the Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital at the end of year 2004. After three months of treatment, Kenna walked like a normal person and returned to Malaysia.
In February 4th, 2006, a seventeen-yearold Chinese teenager, Yi-hong Su, also from Malaysia, came to the Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital searching for hopes to restore his swollen left leg which had been affected by lymphedema for the past eight years.
Facing Amputation, Turn to Tzu Chi for Help
“Even if there is only a fifty percent chance of cure, I still want to bring my son to the Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital for treatment,” Yuhong’s mom said sincerely in Mandarin with Malysian accent.
After being through many obstacles, the 17-year-old Yi-hong Su from Sabah in eastern Malaysia, accompanied by his mother, Yueying Yang and a Tzu Chi commissioner Tzujiang Cheng, finally got on a Malaysian airline direct flight to Taipei and began his journey to seek medical treatment abroad.
Taiwan was strange to Yi-hong and his mother, but the medical team at Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital was the hope in both of their hearts.
In 1998, a car accident left Yi-hong’s father with only one eye, and 8-year-old Yihong with a broken left leg. After the leg wounds healed and the metal fasteners used in stabilizing the broken bones removed, the entire left leg became swollen with no apparent reason. The swelling kept advancing to the left pelvic, genital organ and lower leg. As the swelling worsened, Yi-hong, s 15-kilogram left leg made him difficult to move around. This problem not only troubled Yi-hong physically and mentally, but also disturbed the lives of his family
Yi-hong’s family owned a small hardware store and lived a modest life. His parent took him all over Malaysia to look for treatment from specialists in this field. Despite an enormous medical expense, Yi-hong’s family received the same devastating response from all doctors: “amputation”.
In May, 2004, under the encouragement of relatives in northern Malaysia, Yihong’s father reported this case to the Api office, hoping Tzu Chi could help Yi-hong to obtain medical treatment from Tzu Chi Hospital in Taiwan. Mr. Su had high hope to this hospital. He said, “From what I have seen on television, even a hippo-faced child(Noventree from Indonesia, 5-year-old then) was cured by this medical team.”
Father’s Incident Delayed But Not Stopped This Trip
After accepting this case, an Api volunteer, Tzu-ching Chang drove two hours from downtown Api to Yi-hong’s house in Lannow county to get a better understanding of the situation. Unfortunately, two months later, Mr. Su passed away after his eye surgery. This unexpected loss left Mrs. Su in a state of chaos and disarray. With no time to mourn for Mr. Su’s death, she had to take over the family business and was too overwhelmed to take care of other issues.
In 2005, Yi-hong went to the capital, Kuala Lumpur, to seek medical treatment for the last time. Still, he received the same answer, “It’s impossible for your leg to be restored to its original size.” However, the family wouldn’t give up on looking for further medical treatment. In December of the same year, Yi-hong’s relatives contacted Tzu Chi again, hoping to receive assistance for him to go to Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital for treatment. Both Tzu Chi Api Service Center and Tzu Chi Malacca Branch immediately began processing the request. From setting an arriving date with the Tzu Chi Hospital, arranging for treatment related matters, fundraising towards Yi-hong’s surgery expense, obtaining visas, scheduling airport pick ups and various other events, Tzu Chi volunteers were ready for the visit of Yi-hong and his mother.
Due to the New Year holiday in January for Chinese in Malaysia, all the flights were full. After many attempts and efforts, Yihong finally departed to Taiwan on February 3, 2006. Having already traveled all over Malaysia, Yi-hong was no stranger to be away from home. Yi-hong’s sister said when seeing Yi-hong off at the airport, “My brother, s hope is to have his leg cured and ride his bicycle around the city.”
Thorough Check-up and Detailed Explanation of the Medical Condition
After a long and hard journey, Yi-hong arrived at Hulien Tzu Chi Hospital at 11:00 a.m., a Saturday morning on February 4th. To ensure that Mrs. Su and Yi-hong being exposed to the hospitality of the hospital, the nurses on the eleventh floor of the Unity Building made some special preparations. Their kind thoughts were revealed from a memo written by the Assistant Head Nurse Yang-ching Kuo to her collegues:
Yi-hong is shy and timid. Since he, s been in and out of hospitals many times, he may have a sense of fear and rejection towards the hospital. He is quiet. In general, we can communicate in Chinese, so there shouldn’t be any significant communication difficulties. Speak slowly so he can clearly understand you. Currently his mother and a Tzu Chi volunteer are by his side. If they have any needs, please offer to help voluntarily. This is a foreign place to them after all. We won’ t arrange any special check-ups during these two days. Pay close attention to his wound and genital area.
We expect to have him take x-ray and other skin-prep inspections on Monday. Thanks to the beautiful angels who greeted Yi-hong and his mom today and Nurse XunYi who made the welcoming posters! Mrs. Su said she was very touched! Thank you, everyone!
A series of mandatory check-ups began on Monday, February 6th. An important procedure containing a lymphatic system examination was held at the Nuclear Medicine Department. Trace amount of radioactive chemicals was injected subcutaneously and used to detect any obstructions in the lymphatic system of his leg. Director Shu-hsin Liu of the PET/CT Imaging Center mentioned that, “At that time, we did not see any obstructions in the lymphatic vessels in his leg. Therefore, we assessed that the point of obstruction might be at the pelvic area or above the waist.”
After receiving results of all tests, the medical team met on February 9th with both Yi-hong and his mother to discuss the treatment plan. In the afternoon on the 10th, Chairman of the medical team and Supernintendent, Dr. Ming- hwang Shyr visited Yi-hong and Mrs. Su again to explain the test results and the treatment plans in a simplified way, as doctors used specialized medical terms during the meeting the night before.
Yi-hong’s tests were completed after eliminating the possible flatwormscausing obstruction in his lymphatic system. Under the five category scale of measuring lymphedema, Yi-hong’s left leg was diagnosed to be in the fourth category. Therefore, this serious condition prevented the treatment of reconnecting the lymphatic vessel back to the vein.
Three-Stage Surgery Begins with the Lower Leg.
Because Yi-hong’s lymphedema extended downwards from the left pelvic cavity, the surgery would need to be proceeded in three stages. The first stage was to treat the lower leg; the second stage was to treat the thigh and the last stage included the pelvic area, genital organ, and so on. Whether the second stage required multiple surgeries would depend on his situation. After a careful explanation of the treatment plan, Supernintendent Shyr kindly reminded Yihong, who was still a student, to use his spare time to read more books and increase his knowledge while waiting for the surgery. From Assistant Head Nurse Kuo’s records, one can see a change in Yi-hong’s mood: “When Yi-hong first came to the hospital, he had no facial expressions. After being around with the medical team and volunteers and under their cares for many days , he began to show his smiles and even had conversations with others. Today, during Supernintendent Shyr’s humorous conversation, Yi-hong laughed happily, even though he didn’t completely understand him.”
The first surgery to remove excess lymphoid tissues in the lower leg was performed on February 16th. In order to increase the chance of a successful surgery and ensure better recovery, Dr. Jiunn-tat Lee, Director of the department of Plastic Surgery, and Qua- ping Tseng, the advanced nurse practitioner, visited Yi-hong every day to “scrub” his leg starting from one week before the surgery. Using a brush dipped in iodine, Dr. Lee gently scrubbed the skin of the operating area to achieve complete disinfection. Doctor Lee explained that it was crucial to prep the skin properly because after excess lymphoid tissues removed, they had to paste the skin back on. Therefore, the skin was needed to be in a germ-free condition for proper and quick recovery after surgery.
Dr. Lee also expressed that due to Yihong, s shy personality, and his swollen left leg, made him uneasier for him to make friends normally. Additionally, wearing a diaper due to lymphedema in the gential area had psychological effects on Yihong. Therefore, in addition to offer Yihong a normal leg, the medical team should also help him to reconstruct a healthy and complete life during the last surgery.
10 a.m on May 19th, Yi-hong was sitting on the ward room flipping over a small album looking at pictures. A semi circleshaped “football” was apparent on his right thigh. The “football” was to be used for skin graft during the next surgery. The formal technical term for the “football” is called the “tissue expander.” It was installed under the skin and injected into it with 60 to 120 cubic centimeters of water daily to allow skin to expand big enough for the graft surgery. Since April 6th, when the tissue expander was first installed a month ago, approximately 1,200 cubic centimeters of water have been injected in, resulting in a semi-circle “football” in the right thigh and with sufficient skin for the graft surgery. However, Qua-ping explained that they would wait for another one or two weeks before the surgery since the expanded skin tissue needed to be stabilized enough to be used in the surgery.
Reappearance of the Left Knee after Surgery
To ensure the safety of the patient and to minimize the chance of infection, the second surgery to remove excess lymphoid tissue in the thigh area will be splited into two parts. Prior to the surgery, doctors carefully measured the circumference of both legs. To ensure both legs would be equally sized after the surgery, doctors decided only to remove excess lymphoid tissue in the left leg and retain an appropriate amount of fat. Dr. Lee explained that Yi-hong’s swelling due to lymphedema was very severe and would take a lot of effort just to recover the appearance of the leg. After the surgery, Yi-hong would have to wear elastic nylon sock on his left thigh to prevent further aggrevation of lymphedema in his lower left leg.
To wards the end ofthe first surgery on the left thigh, Supernintendent Shyr, who, s the anesthesiologist for this surgery, said happily, “The knee reappeared!” Surely, after more than 4 hours collaboration of the plastic surgery team, Yi-hong’s left knee finally reappeared after so many years.
Nurses Accompany Yi-hong to Tour Around Hualien
Surgery, recovery, and surgery again. After certain period of recuperation, Yihong got back on the operating table again. However, with experiencing kind attentions and cares in the Hospital, Yi-hong tried to distribute lunch or help nurses whenever he was allowed to sit in a wheel chair during the period of recovery. Nursing staffs sympathized his condition, especially since he came all the way from Malaysia, they provided him with a compact CD player to keep him company, and bought him stacks of origami paper so he could fold paper cranes when he’s bored. These loving nurses not only treated the patient well, but also borrowed a harmonica for Yi-hong’s mother after knowing that she loves to play it. This allowed her to entertain herself and others while taking care of Yi-hong.
In addition, the nursing staffs also volunteered to take Yi-hong and his mother to tour Hualien on holidays. During 6 months of treatment, Yi-hong has been to Taroko, Chishintan, Pulowan, famous tourist sites in Hualien. A number of photo albums sitting next to Yi-hong’s bedside enriched his boring days in the hospital. Among these photos, some of them showed that Yi-hong had dinner at one of the staffs’ home. In one group photo of more than ten people, plastic surgeon Dr. Chien-hsing Wang was also there.
When asked what it’s like to leave the hospital for the first time after being “jailed” for so long ? Yi-hong’s only reply was, “Very Happy. Very very happy!” But exactly what kind of happiness it is ? After thinking for a very long time, Yi-hong replied with a shy smile, “I am happy for everything.”
Thousands of Paper Cranes Represent Indefinite Gratitude
Yi-hong had more than ten surgeries to remove excess lymphoid tissue and liquid and reconstruction. These surgeries not only gave back his normal left leg, they also made him to lose weight from 78 kilograms to 63.5 kilograms at one point. However, due to numerous surgeries and a reduction in activity, Yi-hong’s weight went back up to 69 kilograms.
Cutting, folding the paper and pulling out the wings, Yi-hong’s hands never stopped while waiting to leave the hospital. Thousands of paper cranes smaller than his little pinky were folded to express his gratitude.
On July 28th, the day before Yi-hong’s departure from the hospital, Mrs. Su went to the Jing-Si Abode to present a jar full of Yihong’s paper cranes to Master Cheng Yen to express their gratitude.
Yi-hong was released from the hospital on July 29th. He put on a black polo shirt and a pair of new shoes which were purchased the day before with Huei-mei Yen, the hospital, s resident volunteer, to attend a farewell party with his mother. The medical team, nurses and volunteers who took care of Yi-hong were all at the party to wish him well.
“It doesn’t matter how it ends, at least we’ve had good times together...” Yi-hong stood next to his mom, holding two buckets full of tiny paper cranes. Listening to Mrs. Su played on her harmonica, Yi-hong sang a song that he’s been practicing for a long time, “Don’t Be a Fool.”After the song, he looked at everyone, thanked everyone and presented his thank you card and paper cranes. All the volunteers celebrated this moment with singing and cut a cake to wish Yi-hong’s safe return to Malaysia.
Each paper crane symbolized a blessing. Yi-hong folded more than 1,600 blessings remained in Tzu Chi. These paper cranes represented Yi-hong’s hope. Under his careful construction, thousands of paper cranes weaved a web of hope, taking him to a better and more comfortable future.
Return to Malaysia with Light and Healthy Steps
The once heavy-footed and sad-faced Yihong from half a year ago checked out of the hospital on July 29th with light and healthy steps. At 11 a.m. on July 31st, Yi-hong returned to Api with sunshine-like smiles and was greeted by 27 Malaysian volunteers.
Yi-hong’s 91 years old grandma was overwhelmed with joy and couldn’t fall asleep at night when she heard that her grandson had been healed and was returning home. Her worries were finally relieved when she saw her healthy, handsome grandson standing in front of her at the airport.
“Thanks to Master Cheng Yen and the Tzu Chi Medical team.” Mrs. Su expressed the deep gratitude from her heart with tears in her eyes. Yi-hong said, “My foot is a lot lighter now when I run.” Half a year ago, it was impossible to fit the monstrous left foot into even the largest sandal. Today, Yi-hong could finally put on sneakers.
Warm Thoughts Linger in the Heart
After returning to the familiar home town, Mrs. Su said, “I hope Yi-hong can return to school and study hard. He will repay the world and help more people in the future.”
With a healthy left foot, the 18-year-old Yi-hong’s dream would soon come true as he could ride the bicycle in the prairies of his home town.
The Tzu Chi sisters of Api saw Yi-hong in deep thought while he was sitting on the bench outside his grandma’s house. They asked him what he was thinking. He replied, “I miss Taiwan, the medical team in Tzu Chi Hospital and everyone who cared about me.”