Hospital houses Asia’s largest marrow donor registry

BY FOONG PEK YEE, The Star, May 21, 2006

Taipei, Taiwan -- THE Tzu Chi Buddhist General Hospital started out as a free clinic in a rented apartment on Yan Ai Street, Hualien, Taiwan in September 1972. Today, the hospital’s Tzu Chi Taiwan Marrow Donor Registry ranks as the largest in Asia, with over 250,000 potential donors. It also ranks third worldwide.

<< Master Cheng Yen

But what makes it more incredible is that its founder, Master Cheng Yen, 69, has never left the shores of Taiwan due to her frail health. “She has a heart condition and cannot take a flight,” said James Wu who is an official at the Taiwan Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation.

As the hospital is the first in Taiwan to admit emergency cases without requiring a deposit, its services are accessible to the poor, said Wu. The hospital began with 100 beds and four departments in 1986, and has expanded to include 926 beds and 38 departments.

Master Cheng keeps track of the running of the hospitals under the foundation through teleconferences with the doctors and staff every morning. The teleconferences are also attended by hundreds of Tzu Chi members from all over the world who volunteer at the hospital.

Master Cheng came across as a very eloquent, witty, knowledgeable and caring person as she responded to feedback provided by medical personnel during a teleconference in Hualien recently.

She was familiar with the hospital staff, and broke into a wide smile when a doctor announced a piece of good news that morning. “There is also romantic love in Tzu Chi. A nurse is getting married to the son of a patient today,” he said.

The doctor added that the patient, who was undergoing dialysis for kidney failure, had regained his will to live thanks to a caring nurse. The patient subsequently introduced the nurse to his son.

The foundation, which now has five million members in 30 countries including Malaysia, started off in 1966 with 30 of Master Cheng’s followers, most of them housewives. Each of them donated 50 cents a day from their grocery money, and deposited the collection in coin banks made from bamboo, and the rest as they say, is history, said Wu.

Tzu Chi’s mission is charity, medicine, education and culture, and its activities are telecast via its TV station Da Ai (which means great love in Chinese) in Taiwan.