Viet Nam News
By Hồng Vân
Lê Hữu Toàn and Trần Nguyễn An Khương have a shared vision on organ donation. Both young men have signed up as organ donors and recently undertook separate biking trips across Việt Nam with the hope of ‘spreading the message on the importance of organ donation’.
Khương, 28, and Toàn, 24, only got to know each other on the basis of their shared interest in starting an organ donation "campaign".
Khương completed his biking expedition through nearly 30 cities and provinces of Việt Nam in May last year, while Toàn recently arrived in the northern province of Hà Giang, the final stop in his biking tour, at the end of February this year.
Learning about Toàn’s expedition from Facebook, Khương befriended Toàn and shared with him his own experience, in addition to offering advice and moral support.
“I think no one can avoid sickness and be confident enough to assume they will always remain healthy and will never need help from others,” Khương said.
“Every place I went, talking with the locals, I shared with them stories about the losses and pain I have experienced and about others’ who are suffering from serious diseases and are in dire need of a donor organ,” Khương, who weighs only 39kg due to arthritis and scoliosis, said.
Lê Hữu Toàn, a martial art trainer from the central highlands province of Đắk Lắk, said he knew about organ donation since a young age. As he became older and got access to more material, his interest in organ donation grew.
Fighting spirit: Toàn (standing, sixth from the right) works as a martial arts trainer in HCM City.
In November last year, he came to HCM City to sign up as an organ donor before setting out for his biking trip throughout the country.
“The biking tour is simply a chance for me to discover Việt Nam and to talk with people, share with them my story and let them know how precious it would be if someone could receive their organs after death,” Toàn said.
“There are so many people who are suffering from serious diseases with little chance of survival because of the non-availability of donated organs. Death is something unavoidable and unexpected. I wanted my death to have some meaning. And this pushed me to register as an organ donor after death,” Toàn said.
“Yet none of my family members, friends or acquaintances are organ donors, but I hope over time, they will change their minds,” he said.
Toàn registered as an organ donor before he began his expedition. He biked 100km per day through more than 30 cities and provinces of Việt Nam.
“It opened up a wider world for me and gave me an opportunity to talk with locals and experience their hospitality. Almost all the people I met – locals, travellers, young and old — liked my story and supported me. Four have already contacted me to ask about procedures and to seek advice on organ donation,” Toàn said.
Khương, born in the soutthernmost city of Cà Mau, said he had a friend who suffered renal failure and died because there was no donor organ available for transplantation.
The loss of a friend left the issue of organ donation lingering constantly on Khương’s mind, as he looked for ways on how he could prevent people from dying due to the unavailability of donated organs.
Khương signed up for organ donation after death at the Chợ Rẫy Hospital in August 2015. However, when he reached Hà Nội, his final stop on May 20, he visited the National Centre for Coordinating Human Organ Transplants to sign up to donate one kidney and part of his liver while still alive.
“When I can live well with one kidney, I can donate my other kidney to give life to another person. By doing this, I feel happy and peaceful in my mind,” Khương said.
“This may have a certain effect on the donor’s health; that depends from case to case. I believe with my lifestyle, diet and sports activities, living without a kidney and part of the liver will not have an adverse effect on my health,” Khương said.
“My parent earlier disapproved, but when I explained, they agreed happily, like the way they did when I decided to sign up for organ donation and took the biking trip,” Khương said.
Khương said he also got the opportunity to know and meet Thảo and her daughter Hòa in the northern province of Bắc Ninh, who donated their organs while still alive and remained healthy.
“It affirmed my belief and gave me a feeling of confidence while signing up to donate my organs.”
On the path: Trần Nguyễn An Khương biked through more than 30 cities and provinces of Việt Nam, telling people and communities about the importance of being an organ donor. — Photos Courtesy of Trần Nguyễn An Khương
Khương has undergone tests and is waiting for the results.
“I am very eager and have contacted Phúc [deputy director of the National Centre for Coordinating Human Organ Transplants, where Khương registered to donate his kidney and liver] several times; he has told me to wait a little longer. I hope things go smoothly so that my organs can be donated soon.”
Khương began his journey in April last year from Cà Mau Province, till the central region and then to the northern area of Việt Nam. Besides his bike, he carried a stove (for cooking), a tent, a few clothes and some money.
Each day, he would wake up at 5am and bike an average of nearly 100km per day, resting only after 6pm. Khương biked a total of more than 3,000km and spoke to hundreds of people from different localities of Việt Nam on his 36-day trip, also losing 6kg. Through his stories and experiences as an organ donor, Khương inspired others, encouraging locals he met on the way to change their viewpoint on the practice.
Because of a belief in burial or, many Vietnamese think their bodies must be kept intact after death and many are loath to cut out parts of their bodies, even to save the lives of others.
“I cannot remember and I do not care too much about how many more people sign up for organ donation after my trip. I just hope more learn about donation, have a better understanding and a fair viewpoint about this meaningful act,” Khương said
Due to their shared interest in organ donation, Toàn and Khương have become close and are thinking of planning a project together in the future.
“We have recently come up with some ideas and are yet to formulate a specific plan. But we will surely do something more to raise awareness among people about organ donation,” Khương said. — VNS