Tzu Chi Group Joins Campaign For Asian Organ Donors In NY

by Liz Rhoades, Queens Chronicle, September 1, 2005

New York, USA -- Urging more Asian Americans to donate organs, officials in Flushing on Friday launched an awareness campaign in the office of the Tzu Chi Foundation.

<< Organ recipients and officials from organ donor organizations gathered at the Tzu Chi Foundation in Flushing. Kelly Li, 6, of Flushing (c.) got a heart transplant five years ago.

The New York Organ Donor Network announced that it would be working with the Tzu Chi Foundation to encourage Asians to donate organs. Figures show that last year only 12 Asian families consented to such donations in the city.

The donor network was founded in 1978 as a non-profit group responsible for the recovery of organs and tissues for transplanting and providing public education. The Tzu Chi Foundation was founded in 1966 by a Buddhist nun, Cheng Yen, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996. It is a non-profit organization based in Taiwan that works around the world offering disaster relief aid, builds schools and hospitals and is involved in environmental protection.

In Flushing, members help sweep the sidewalks and two years ago actually washed and scrubbed downtown streets in the summer. It is funded through private donations and has 4 million members around the world.

Elaine Berg, president and CEO of the New York Organ Donor Network, said the collaboration was a long time coming. “We will now begin a process of raising the awareness in Asian communities,” she said.

The need for organ transplants “crosses all races and we are all the same inside,” Berg added. Her statistics show that only 27 percent of Asians donate organs. “Many think it is against their religion but that is not true,” she added.

In response, officials from Tzu Chi showed a videotape with English subtitles of their founder discussing organ donations. In it Cheng Yen said that providing organ donations is a lifesaving, good deed and from the Buddhist perspective, is an act of kindness, compassion and giving.

Dr. John Wang, of New York Presbyterian Hospital who does kidney transplants, noted that there are 4,500 people on the waiting list in the New York City area and that 30,000 Asians have lost their lives since 1995 because no kidneys were available. “Getting an organ transplant is a miracle and joy for the patient and their families.”

Dr. Daphne Hsu, a pediatric cardiologist, introduced one of her former patients, Kelly Li of Flushing, who received a heart transplant five years ago. She is now 6 years old and about to start classes in PS 42.

“A heart transplant is more of an urgent issue and we lose about a quarter of the patients because there are no hearts. One person can save so many lives,” the doctor said.

According to the New York State Organ and Tissue Donor Registry, one person who registers with the state to donate organs can save up to eight lives by giving the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas and intestines. A tissue donor (corneas, bone, skin, heart valves, tendons and veins) can help 50 lives by restoring eyesight, providing skin to burn patients and preventing the loss of arms or legs.

Carolyn Chin, who received a kidney to save her life many years ago, said she is alive today because of a stranger. “The success rate of transplants is getting better and better, but we need the support of the Chinese community.”

Stephen Tan, who is a liver recipient, choked up when he talked about the transplant he received after his own liver became tumorous. “The surgery took eight hours and the recovery five months, but now I lead a normal life. Someone showed their love for me.”

Asu Chintzu, a member of Tzu Chi, told the audience that when her husband died, she did not donate his organs out of respect for him. “Now I think I wasn’t wise,” she said through an interpreter. She promised to donate her entire body for organ donations and research.

For more information on organ donation, contact the New York Organ Donor Network staff at its 24-hour hot line, 800-GIFT-4-NY.