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Xi zooms in on M'sians
Publication Date : 11-10-2013
China's President Xi Jinping singled out two Malaysians in his speeches during his official visit to Malaysia last week.
At a luncheon attended by Chinese associations and entrepreneurs, Xi made reference to acclaimed Malaysian singer Fish Leong, adding that some Chinese nationals thought she was from China.
In response, Leong expressed her gratitude on Weibo (Chinese Twitter), “Thank you national leader Mr Xi for your compliment and recognition. I will continue to sing more good songs for everyone.”
Another Malaysian highlighted by Xi was Dr Yong June Kong, who made headlines in China last year for being the first foreign stem cell donor.
When his story was cited by Xi at the Malaysia-China Economic Summit as an example of the friendship between Malaysians and Chinese, Yong was busy with the preparations to marry his Shanghainese girlfriend Zhang Yinyan in Shanghai, China.
He only discovered that his name appeared in various Malaysian and Chinese news outlets after his wedding ceremony on October 5.
“A former classmate saw the news and messaged me.
“It is indeed an honour to be mentioned by the Chinese top leader,” Yong, 36, said.
Currently a senior resident specialised in gastrointestinal surgery at Shanghai East Hospital, Yong hails from Skudai, Johor.
He graduated with a degree in biomedical science in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in 2001.
Upon his grand-uncle’s advice, he came to China for a degree in clinical medicine in Tianjin Medical University.
He later obtained a full scholarship from the Chinese government in 2006 to pursue a master’s degree in surgery at Tongji University in Shanghai, and then began to serve at Shanghai East Hospital, an affiliate to Tongji University, in 2009.
A regular blood and platelet donor since he was 20, Yong signed up without hesitation when he chanced upon a campaign by China Marrow Donor Programme (CMDP) calling on students to register as stem cell donors at Tianjin University.
“It’s for a good cause, so why not?” Yong said.
A small amount of blood was drawn on the spot and his contact details were recorded.
Fast forward seven years later, Yong was informed that a possible match had occurred.
He could save the life of a seven-year-old leukaemia-stricken boy from Zhejiang province, who has to resort to stem cell transplant because he did not respond to chemotherapy.
“I agreed to conduct more tests right away to confirm the match.
“My parents’ consent and health checks were also required before I could proceed,” Yong said.
The procedure was scheduled to be held in April in Tianjin, a few months after he received the call.
Yong was first injected with a glycoprotein for a few days to stimulate the bone marrow to produce more stem cells into the bloodstream.
“During the actual procedure on April 17, my blood was withdrawn through a needle inserted in my arm and channelled to a machine that separated and collected the stem cells.
“The remaining blood was returned to my body through another arm,” Yong explained.
Other than the side effects he experienced from the glycoprotein, such as mild fever, he said the procedure was relatively easy and painless (except for the discomfort from the needles).
“I recuperated for a few days after the procedure and I have been doing well since.
“I am an example that donating blood, platelet and stem cells are not harmful to our health,” he said.
During his 10-day stay in the hospital, Yong was accompanied by Zhang, and a thank you letter from the little boy’s father.
Through the information gathered from news, the boy’s father tracked Dr Yong down and visited him at work after the boy went through the transplant successfully.
Yong said it was an emotional visit.
They kept in touch and naturally, the boy and his father were guests at Yong’s wedding.
The bride Zhang is a 27-year-old nurse in Shanghai East Hospital.
Yong said many friends were curious about stem cell donation following the transplant.
His advice to them was to think it over before they commit.
“We should not go back on our promise once we are told there is a possible match,” he said.
Established in 1992 and later reactivated in 2001, CMDP is a non-profit organisation under the umbrella of the Red Cross Society of China.
It has a database of 1.7 million registered potential stem cell donors and has facilitated more than 3,700 donations.
A CMDP employee, Du Shiqiang, said Dr Yong is the first – and still the only – non-Chinese national donor who has successfully donated his stem cells in China.
“Every successful case, including Yong’s, is an inspiration for more people to sign up as potential donor,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Malaysia, the Malaysian Stem Cell Registry (MSCR) is tasked with the responsibilities to identify and collect data from volunteers and facilitate searches for potential donors for stem cell transplant.
Established in December 2000, MSCR is a joint project of the health ministry, National Cancer Council (Makna) and the Institute for Medical Research (IMR).
According to website of the ministry’s transplantation unit and National Transplant Resource Centre (www.dermaorgan.gov.my), Malaysian citizens who are healthy, free of chronic and infectious disease, and aged between 18 and 50 can become a stem cell donor.
Stem cell transplant is needed for patients diagnosed with blood disorders, such as leukaemia, aplastic anaemia or thalassaemia.
Patients who do not have family members with matching human leukocyte antigens (HLA) have to look for unrelated compatible donor from stem cell registry such as MSCR or the cord blood bank.