|Braveheart: Tran Mau Duc lifts up the rear of a bike to park it right and get more space in the parking lot at the Hue Central Hospital. Duc underwent a heart-transplant four years ago. — VNS Photo Phuoc Buu
by Phuoc Buu
THUA THIEN - HUE (VNS) — Tran Mau Duc walks briskly between the bikes in the parking lot of the Hue Central Hospital and lifts several to rearrange them.
It is a strenuous task, but he does the job quickly, efficiently, with minimum fuss.
While rearranging bikes for hours every day is no mean feat for anyone, what Duc does is truly remarkable. No one watching him work can say that he is working with another person's heart.
Duc was the first patient to receive a heart transplant done by Vietnamese doctors at the hospital in March 2011.
"It was four years ago and now I am good. I can work 10 hours a day and seven days a week. I can walk comfortably with something like 50kg in my hands. I feel much stronger than other watchmen working here."
Duc, 31, does indeed look fit and trim, weighing 68kg for a height of 165cm.
This is a far cry from when he was confined to his hospital bed for more than 14 months as he awaited a heart transplant, the "magic" that brought him back to life.
Born to a poor family in Phu Hoi Ward, Hue City, Duc grew up as healthy as others around him until one day, he fainted and had to be hospitalized.
"What the doctors said shocked me. They said I need to replace my heart. I thought: This is it. I will definitely die.
"Waiting in the hospital for nearly a year and a half was sheer hell. The doctors there encouraged me a lot, but it was my little family that kept me going. I had to live for my wife and my two-year-old daughter.
"Then I woke up from the darkness and felt really good with the heart given by a man who'd been in a vegetative state for years after an accident."
Vo My Nuong, who had married Duc in 2008 in HCM City when both of them were working in a shoemaking workshop, said she'd never felt as desperate as she did when she learnt of his situation.
"He is a good husband, a good father. He works hard to feed me and two little daughters. Thank God that he's completely healthy now."
Duc began to work five months after the surgery.
"I felt strong and could not stand the fact that no one took care for my wife and my daughter. So I began working at a carpenter's workshop, ignoring doctors' advice to do no manual work.
"Food for my wife and daughter. That was all I thought of then. I did anything I could do to get some money."
Duc later worked on a construction site and bike-washing shop, where he found it was easy to catch a cold and flu. Then he tried something harder, working as porter for a department store for almost a year until a doctor who saw him informed Bui Duc Phu, the hospital's director.
Tran Quoc Anh, who worked with Duc for a month on a photography project, said Duc dedicated to his work as a porter. "He worked hard as if he'd had no heart transplant. Look at him, he is very strong, brisk."
Seven months ago, director Phu, who was also the chief surgeon for Duc's transplant, gave him a job at the hospital, taking care of the parking lot designated for doctors and staff.
While the director wants to get him an easer job as a watchman, recruitment in the public sector is complicated and he has to wait for his chance.
A watchman who works at the gate near Duc's parking lot also remarked on his dedication.
"His working hour begins at 7am, but he always arrives at 5:30am or 6am to sweep the park and prepare everything," he said. (The watchman did not want to be named.)
Duc explained: "I am so lucky to have a heart that matches my body, to get a donation from doctor Phu'wife to continue my life, and to have a job now, so I must be good."
Duc and his wife often visit the grave of the man whose heart he now has, and light incense in gratitude.
However, life is still tough.
He has three mouths to feed – his wife, a six-year-old daughter and a 14-month baby – with a monthly income of VND3 million (US$ 140) from the parking lot job.
His wife has not been able to get a job after giving birth to their second daughter.
Furthermore, Duc has to pay five per cent of his medicine costs (the rest being covered by insurance), which works out VND870,000 a month.
Public donations can help, but Duc does not know how to go about it.
"It (the income) isn't sufficient for four people. I am worried about the kids and hoping for more good luck. I wish I could be a permanent watchman at the hospital or get some money to attend a driving class," Duc said.
"But I know luck does not come to one so many times, so I am trying my best. Every weekend I work part-time for another parking lot to get some more money.
Everything I do is for my kids." — VNS