The Dalin Tzu Chi General Hospital serves Chiayi and Yunlin, the two counties of Taiwan with the lowest availability of beds before 2000 – for Yunlin, 27.8 per 10,000 people and Chiayi even lower. If people needed treatment, their families had to make the long journey down the island’s main expressway to a major city in the north or south. In some cases, patients died before they reached the hospital; sometimes, their relatives drove long distance to visit and were involved in an accident, leading to loss of life. It was this scarcity of care that persuaded Master Cheng Yen to build a hospital in Dalin.
Local people, including Lin Sujing, looked at land in the area and chose a site of 194,000 square metres belonging to the Taiwan Sugar company. Lin himself borrowed money to purchase 270 square metres and his family donated the land to the foundation. “Master Cheng Yen helped us to build a big hospital, to save and protect lives and be the foundation for all in the community,” Lin said.
The hospital opened its doors in 2000, providing in-patient and outreach health care programs, to educate people on how to maintain their health. One of them is Zhan Qingchuan; he had no history of heart complications until two years ago, when he suffered a heart attack one afternoon and underwent a life-saving operation. “I told them that, if it were not for Tzu Chi, I would have been dead already,” he said.
The hospital has specialised in organ donations and transplants, setting up a team dedicated to this in 2001. Since then, it has carried out 27 successful liver and kidney transplant operations, which have saved the lives of residents in nearby counties. One of them is Bai Suzhen, a woman who looks cheerful enough today, as she walks with a bounce in her step. Two years ago, she was at death’s door because she needed a new liver. She had been afflicted with Hepatitis B and had worked hard to give her children a safe and sound environment. But the stress and strain caused the virus to spread and all she could do was pray for a new liver. "When I couldn't get up in the morning, I would wonder why?” she said. “So I thought that, maybe, I would not be lucky enough to get a transplant and how much time I had left. I just did not want to think about it. Fortunately, Bai's prayer for a new liver was answered a year later after she transferred to Tzu Chi's Dalin General Hospital.
In Taiwan, there are every year nearly 7,000 people on the waiting list for transplants; there is a shortage of cadavers available for post-mortem donations. Fortunately, there is another option – people who are living agree to donate a portion of their organ for grating into a patient. Yu Wenyao is the leader of the donation and transplant team: "since the liver is part of the digestive system, if cirrhosis occurs, then it will cause complications such as swelling in the abdomen, high blood pressure in the portal vein, thicken blood vessels and some blockages. So sometimes during an operation when you make a cut, excessive amount of blood flows out." The donor is at risk too. He or she must give 60 per cent of the liver; thus the donor has to go through a thorough health screening to ensure safety. Thanks to the efforts of the Dalin medical team, the hospital is ranked 4th in the nation for successful transplants. It has become an educational hub for transplants from living people, since only a few facilities offer this kind of surgery. The hospital is truly a blessing for the residents of Yunlin and Chiayi counties. Yu said that the support of local people was a validation and encouragement. “In this rural area, public approval is very important for us. It is not as if we won a great prize but it is spiritual motivation." After its first 10 years, Tzu Chi’s Dalin General Hospital has become a place for salvation and re-birth.
The hospital has also specialized in treatment of osteoarthritis, one of the leading causes of disability among the elderly. It is a degenerative disease, caused by aging and wear and tear on the joints. It is estimated that six percent of men and 20 per cent of women older than 60 are prone to the disease. Currently, the most common form of treatment is painkillers. Usually, only when the tissue has completely deteriorated can knee replacement surgery be arranged. In Taiwan, the number of people with osteoarthritis in Taiwan is uncountable. To reduce aches and swelling, patients are usually given non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, glucosamine or hyaluronic acid injections. Surgical treatment is an option only when the joints become deformed. But one of the Dalin doctors, Lu Shaorui, has found an alternative, so that people no longer have to suffer in pain.
He was looking for a new form of treatment. "A fellow brother or sister would tell the Master that, when they went to see the orthopedic surgeon, they were told that, since the tissue was already worn down, they should wait until the whole thing was gone and get a replacement joint. The Master encouraged me and said that, in the future when people see the doctor, hopefully they would not be told the same thing. She meant that she wanted me to find an improved and alternative solution."
After nearly a decade of clinical observation, Dr. Lu discovered that the main cause of joint decay could be the medial plica, a soft knee tissue that roughens with age and trauma. Further research validated his theory. "When I went back to the medial plica, I found that the degeneration of the soft tissue produced other complications. Not only does the medial plica have to be removed but other interrelated problems have to be treated as well."
As a result of his research, the hospital has developed the “Knee Health Promotion Option”, a procedure which helps regeneration of cartilage. Thanks to Dr. Lu's ground-breaking work, over 5,000 patients have regained the freedom to walk with ease and comfort. One of them is volunteer Luo Hua, who now moves with ease and confidence. It is hard to imagine that, previously, she could barely walk due to the pain and swelling from osteoarthritis. "I tried acupuncture and medication,” she said. “I was given muscle relaxers, which reduced the pain and pressure. If I did not take the relaxants, then my joints would be aching and sore. I'd walk a little and then take a rest, or I felt I was going to collapse. It was excruciating." Thanks to the arthroscopic surgery provided by Dr Lu, Luo has recovered her mobility.
Tzu Chi Dalin Hospital 10th Anniversary
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