'Extraordinary heroes': Brothers donate their organs to strangers, 7 years apart

'Extraordinary heroes': Brothers donate their organs to strangers, 7 years apart

Two brothers have stepped up to help those in need by donating their organs to complete strangers. Cheryl Goh with the story.

SINGAPORE: When Mr Lin Hanwei informed his mother that he was going to donate his liver to a stranger, he was met with neither surprise nor objection. 

"That's good," came the answer from their mother.

This unexpected response was a stark contrast to her reaction when his brother, Dilun, told her nine years ago that he wanted to donate his kidney to a young boy.

THe brothers Lin Dulin and Lin Hanwei with their mother
Living organ donors Lin Hanwei (left) and Lin Dilun with their mother Madam Serene Neo. (Photo: Darius Boey)

Dilun, now 34, had seen an appeal for a kidney for a five-year-old boy in the newspapers. The boy’s story moved him so much that he stepped forward to donate one of his kidneys to the stranger, something no one else in Singapore had done before.

It took two years from the time Dilun made his decision for the transplant to happen, as he went for tests, and took his mother to see experts at the National University Hospital (NUH) to allay her fears.

When it was done in 2012, Dilun became the first altruistic donor here, a term used for donors who donate organs to strangers. 

READ: When it's life or death: Family members donate livers to relatives despite risks

About two months ago, Hanwei, 35, decided to follow in his brother’s footsteps. He donated part of his liver to Mr Eddie Tan, a 59-year-old man who suffered from an acute Hepatitis B flare causing liver failure.

They shared their stories on Thursday (Jul 11) at NUH where both their transplant operations had been performed.

The Lins are also the first family to have two living organ donors, but they made light of their gifts of life.

“Some people donate blood, some people donate money, we donated organs. It’s a little bit more complicated, but it’s the same,” Hanwei said. 

IT TOOK JUST SIX DAYS

Eddie’s son had posted the call for help on Facebook. Six days later, Hanwei was in the operating theatre.

The situation was urgent as Mr Tan's liver was failing fast, said Dr Alfred Kow, senior consultant at the National University Centre Organ Transplantation (NUCOT) who performed the operation on Hanwei.

READ: 'When I saw this innocent baby facing death, I knew I had to do something': Stranger who donated liver to 6-month-old baby

A mandatory one-week cooling off period that gives potential donors time to make sure they want to go ahead with the donation was waived; and the day after Hanwei was cleared by a transplant ethics committee, the transplant happened, Dr Kow said.

About 25 to 30 people came forward to be screened, of whom two others were also found suitable but they backed out, Dr Kow added.

"If we hadn't transplanted him (Eddie) quite immediately, he may have gone into a coma. That may have been beyond salvage. So we're quite happy that Mr Lin came forward to donate his organ," Dr Kow said. 

Lin Hanwei after op
Liver donor Lin Hanwei after his surgery. (Photo: Lin Hanwei)

"I knew I was in the safe hands of the doctors. I also don't like to think for too long," said Hanwei, a financial services director. 

READ: 'Are you sure he is dead?': Doctors struggle with families’ lack of understanding of HOTA

He would be "inconvenienced" for up to three months, as his liver regenerates fully. He also has to watch his diet and avoid his favourite sport, football, for some time.

“But that? In return for a life being saved? It’s a no brainer,” he said. 

When Eddie and his family visited him after the transplant, they were so grateful, he said. 

Hanwei is one of 20 altruistic liver donors who have come forward in Singapore from 2013 to June this year. A majority of such donors, 14 of them, came forward after social media appeals, NUH said.

CONVINCING LOVED ONES THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE

Hanwei said the knowledge that he would be doing a good deed was good enough for him, but he had to convince his girlfriend, who did not take his decision well.

Dilun spoke to his brother’s girlfriend, which played a part in her coming to terms with Hanwei’s decision.

Their mother, Madam Serene Neo, 54, did not need persuasion this time.

"I think I helped my brother with the precedent because my mother looks at me (and) says since I am fine, it should be okay,” Dilun said.

Seven years ago, Madam Neo was very much against his surgery, Dilun said, but she was there for him.

"My position (then) was that I don't support him doing this, but I support him doing what he wants … because he is my son," Madam Neo, a clinic assistant, said. 

The brothers gave credit to their mother for their kindness.

"She's the kind of person who, if she has S$20 on her and she knows someone who needs it, she will give it all to the person," Hanwei said.

“EXTRAORDINARY HEROES”

NUCOT co-director Professor A Vathsala called the brothers “extraordinary heroes”.

“We want to reinforce that every act of organ donation is a heroic act, but they did it for people they don’t even know. Let’s take our hats off for them,” she said. 

The brothers said they hope that their story would inspire others to come forward to donate their organs.

“When you give an organ to somebody else, you can see the good you bring about, you see the person being healthy, living a full life,” Dilun said. 

Bryan Liu and fam
Kidney donor Lin Dilun (back row, centre) with organ recipient Bryan Liu (front row, centre) and their loved ones in a photo taken in 2017. (Photo: Lin Dilun)

Bryan Liu, the recipient of Dilun’s kidney, was born with just one malformed kidney. His mother had donated a kidney to him, but a virus caused his kidneys to fail, Dilun recounted.

The child was on dialysis for six years before Dilun stepped forward. Now a Secondary 2 student, Bryan is living a normal life as a teenager. Dilun is in touch with Bryan and his family, seeing them on festive occasions, birthdays and the anniversary of Bryan’s “rebirth”, he said.

NUCOT performed a total of 48 living donor kidney and liver transplants, which make up the majority of all such transplants done last year. As of June this year, it has done 18 such transplants. 

Source: CNA/ja(hm)

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