Doctors at a Vietnamese hospital performed corneal transplants on two patients on Monday thanks to donations from a 7-year-old girl, a rare act that has been hailed as heroic across the country.
The operations were performed at the National Hospital of Ophthalmology in Hanoi on a 73-year-old woman who had suffered from corneal scarring and a 42-year-old man who had congenital cataracts that had left him with blurred vision for the past eight years.
“Their eyes have reacted well,” a doctor said after the procedures.
The two adults received the cornea from Nguyen Hai An, a Hanoi girl who died of a brain tumor on Thursday last week.
Her family had wanted to donate all her organs, but Vietnamese laws only allow hospitals to receive cornea from donors under 18 years old.
“Let's give your light to other people, my dear,” the girl’s mother told her on her death bed, said Nguyen Huu Hoang, director of the eye bank at the hospital, who witnessed the scene.
The mother kissed her daughter’s forehead, Hoang said, describing the scene as the “most emotional” thing he had ever seen.
It took him half an hour to remove her cornea. The mother then looked at her daughter and said: “I’m proud of you.”
An was diagnosed with a brain tumor in September 2017, and her condition had degenerated rapidly.
During her time in hospital, her mother discussed the idea of donating her organs with An. After seeing many people struggling in the hospital, the little girl agreed, her mother said.
“I spent time talking with her about death and she believed she would see me again in heaven,” her mother said.
The family’s act has won the hearts of people across the country.
Health Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien sent them a note on the day of the funeral.
“You did an unbelievable thing,” she said.
Tien signed up to be an organ donor herself in 2015, becoming the first politician in Vietnam to register as she called for efforts to help alleviate the severe shortage of donated organs in a country where there’s a strong belief that people need all their body parts for the afterlife.
Vietnamese doctors have only performed around 1,500 organ transplants since 1992, according to figures from the health ministry.
That has left more than 16,000 patients suffering from heart, kidney, liver and lung diseases and more than 6,000 blind people awaiting donations, said the ministry.
Donated cornea stored at the National Hospital of Ophthalmology in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress
Hoang from the National Hospital of Ophthalmology said its waiting list has nearly 1,000 patients on it.
He said the eye bank, which is usually underresourced, had received around 400 donations in the last 10 years. The youngest donor was a six-year-old boy from Ninh Binh Province near Hanoi, who died of head injuries suffered in a road crash seven years ago.
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