“Families of organ donors have special stories. Behind their kindness and bravery are things difficulties that cannot be seen easily,” said Dr. Du Thi Ngoc Thu, head of the organ transplant coordination unit at Saigon’s Cho Ray Hospital.
Since its founding in 2014, the unit has recorded 38 cases of organ donations from brain dead patients, she said.
In 2010, when the hospital took its first steps in transplanting organs from brain-dead patients, the doctor and her colleagues tried to convince the mother and brother of a man who had gone brain dead after a severe accident to donate his organs to other patients who needed them.
The grief-stricken mother, hoping her son’s body can save other lives, agreed.
Former Minister of Health Nguyen Thi Kim Tuyen (R) with families of organ donors including a mother (second from left) who had donated her son’s organ at a ceremony in 2016. Photo courtesy of Du Thi Ngoc Thu.
But, when she took her son’s body to his hometown for the funeral, the mother was rejected by her family and relatives.
She had to put up a tent outside her house to organize the funeral for her dead son and refused all the money people gave her to prove that she had not been greedy in donating her son’s organs.
The mother and son later left their hometown for good and changed their phone numbers to avoid facing the anger and nastiness of their neighbors.
But this was not the end of their troubles.
When Cho Ray Hospital organized an event to pay tribute to families donating organs of their loved ones, Thu and her colleagues had to try very hard to find the mother, they were shocked to learn what she’d been through.
The old woman had an accident herself and was operated on at the Cho Ray Hospital, but she did not want to call Thu because she was afraid people would say she wanted to wheedle people into helping her.
Later, the mother and her son bought a house on an installment plan. However, the landlord wanted to sell it to someone else for more money, so a lot of difficulties were created to drive the mother and son away.
After they won a lawsuit and proved their legal ownership, an anonymous donor helped them pay the rest of the installment money, but the house had been sold to another person by the former landlord.
“The situation was out of my league, and it tortured me,” Thu said.
In another case, a middle-aged woman lost her husband who’d been treated at the Cho Ray Hospital’s ICU in 2016.
Thu and her colleagues tried their best to save the man whose brain was dead, but they failed. Later, they persuaded his family members to donate the brain dead man’s kidneys and corneas, saving four other patients.
After several months, Thu visited the woman, who looked haggard and depressed. She told the doctor how her life changed after donating her husband’s organs.
A 53-year-old woman in the southern province of Bac Lieu is able to see after receiving corneas from a stranger who died in a traffic accident. Photo by VnExpress/Thu Anh.
The husband’s family, thinking that the woman had sold her husband’s organs for money, cut her off and refused to keep in touch with her. She said that even a lottery seller on the streets heard the rumors and despised her.
She began getting anonymous letters saying her husband own a lot of money.
“They were all fake, because they thought I got a lot of money after donating my husband’s organs,” she said. Having no support from relatives and friends, she fell into a depression and stopped communicating with people.
“If I had known all of this, I would have never donated his organs,” she told Thu, who was shocked, yet again.
The doctor felt bad for not foreseeing the difficulties that families of organ donors have to face and keeps in touch with them.
At the “For People’s Health” ceremony organized by the Ministry of Health in 2016, Thu told the woman, who was recognized for her brave and kind decision: “Be proud of what you did, because it is not a thing everyone can do.”
Recently, after four years, Thu visited the woman. She does not care about rumors or nasty words anymore and believes that her husband would have agreed with what she did.
To avoid such tragedies in the future, doctors in the organ transplant coordination unit at the Cho Ray Hospital will will also attend the donors’ funerals, and keep in touch the families for at least two years to provide any assistance or advice they may need.
Between June 2013 and November 2020, 5,473 organ donations have been recorded, according to the Vietnam National Coordinating Center for Human Organ Transplantation (VNHOT).
The center says the demand for organ transplants in Vietnam is high, but the number of donors is very low. As of December 6, there were 2,524 registered cases that need organ transplants.