Brothers turned living organ donors - for strangers

Madam Serene Neo, 54, had at first objected to her younger son Lin Dilun (right) donating his kidney back in 2012, but was assured after seeing him recover well after the operation. Hence, older son Lin Hanwei did not face any objection from her when
Madam Serene Neo, 54, had at first objected to her younger son Lin Dilun (right) donating his kidney back in 2012, but was assured after seeing him recover well after the operation. Hence, older son Lin Hanwei did not face any objection from her when he donated part of his liver to an end-stage liver disease patient in May.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Lin siblings are Singapore's first living donors from the same family to donate organs to complete strangers

Donating one's organ to a stranger is an extraordinary act of generosity, but two brothers who did so think nothing of it.

Mr Lin Hanwei, 35, and his younger brother Dilun are Singapore's first living donors from the same family to donate to complete strangers.

In May, Hanwei donated part of his liver to Mr Eddie Tan, whose end-stage liver disease prompted his son to post an appeal on social media.

Seven years ago in 2012, Dilun, then 27, gave his kidney to six-year-old Bryan Liu after reading about the boy's daily struggles in The New Paper.

His selfless act made him the first person to donate his kidney to a complete stranger here.

Hanwei said he was inspired by what his younger brother did.

"I don't think I'm a kind and compassionate person, but what he did made me question if I could go through with donating my organ too," he said, adding that the compressed timeline helped make his decision easier.

Within five days of reading Mr Tan's appeal, Hanwei had volunteered to be a donor, passed the screening tests, received the medical approval, and was out of the operating theatre.

"I knew that I was in good hands, I wouldn't die or have long-term damage," said the financial services director.

Doctors had screened 25 to 30 people, and only Hanwei and two others were found to be suitable.

But the two backed out due to their own concerns and family objections, leaving Hanwei to step in to save Mr Tan from slipping into a possible coma, said Associate Professor Alfred Kow from the National University Centre for Organ Transplantation (NUCOT).

Brothers Lin Hanwei (far left) and Dilun share a special bond - both have given strangers the gift of life. In May, older brother Hanwei, 35, answered an online appeal and gave a part of his liver to Mr Eddie Tan, who had end-stage liver disease. He
Brothers Lin Hanwei (far left) and Dilun share a special bond - both have given strangers the gift of life. In May, older brother Hanwei, 35, answered an online appeal and gave a part of his liver to Mr Eddie Tan, who had end-stage liver disease. He was inspired by his brother Dilun, 34, who in 2012 donated a kidney to a six-year-old after reading about the boy's struggles in The New Paper. Their mother Serene Neo had reservations the first time one of her sons decided to donate an organ. But after seeing him recover well, she had no objections when the other did so.  ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Mr Tan's medical situation was so urgent that doctors got approval from the Transplant Ethics Committee to waive the week-long mandatory cooling-off period for donors so that the operation could start immediately, added Prof Kow.

The transplant took 51/2 hours on May 30 and was a success.

Hanwei also made an exceptionally speedy recovery. He left the hospital just five days later with a 7-inch by 5-inch scar on his torso, and had fully recovered two weeks after the operation.

"I went to eat a hotel buffet and had diarrhoea; I think my body was not used to it," he recalled with a laugh.

Mr Tan's wife and children visited the donor in the hospital three days after the operation.

"There was a lot of gratefulness; they kept telling me that words could not express (how they felt)," Hanwei said, adding that they made plans to meet again when Mr Tan is better.

Hanwei has to undergo yearly check-ups at the National University Hospital.

Prof Kow said the 20-year survival rate of liver transplant recipients at NUCOT is 80 per cent.

The knowledge that donating an organ would ultimately save someone's life and the high standard of medical care here were two important factors in the brothers' decision to be living donors.

Prof Kow said in Hanwei's case, doctors made sure to leave 5 to 10 per cent more of his liver than if he had to undergo surgery to remove a liver tumour, to ensure his safety.

The Lin brothers said they have supportive family and friends.

  • 3

    Only this number of the 25 to 30 people screened were suitable as a donor for Mr Eddie Tan, who had end-stage liver disease.

    80%

    The 20-year survival rate of liver transplant recipients from the National University Centre for Organ Transplantation

Though their mother had at first objected to Dilun donating his kidney, she was assured after seeing him recover well after the operation. So when Hanwei decided to be a donor too, she did not raise any objections.

The first case of a non-related liver donor here was in 2013. Since then, there have been only 20 other cases, including Hanwei's - making up 10 per cent of all living liver donors in NUCOT, said Prof Kow.

Of the 20 donors, 14 had stepped forward as a result of appeals through social media.

"It may have coincided with some of our organ donation awareness efforts and with how we care for our patients. More people are increasingly aware that it's actually safe," he added.

 
 
 

For Dilun, now 34 and in between jobs, the chance to help Bryan - born with only one kidney that failed when he was two - was something he could not pass up.

"I felt it was tragic for him to live his childhood that way," he said, adding that he does not feel the loss of a kidney.

Dilun, who is getting married in October, has kept in touch with Bryan, now in Secondary 2, and his family. They meet about five to six times a year to celebrate occasions such as Chinese New Year, Christmas and, of course, the date of the transplantation.

"A lot of people, when they find out that I'm a kidney donor, ask me, 'What do you lose?' but not many ask me what I have gained," said Dilun. "In a very beautiful way, I've gained a family that has been so warm towards me."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2019, with the headline 'Brothers turned living organ donors - for strangers'. Print Edition | Subscribe