Taiwanese woman becomes Asia’s longest-living heart transplant survivor

Taipei, Feb. 4 (CNA) Heart transplant patient Lee Hsiu-ying (李秀英) celebrated the 30th anniversary of her surgery on Thursday at the same hospital where she received her new heart, making her the longest- ever survivor of a heart transplant in Asia.

Lee, now 53, recalled that 30 years ago, she suffered a flu- triggered heart muscle disease and was rushed to Taipei-based Cheng Hsin General Hospital, which is known for its heart surgery expertise.

Learning that the surgery might be the only way to save her life, Lee’s father signed the surgery consent form, agreeing to have her daughter receive a heart transplant, which was performed by a team led by cardiologist Wei Jeng (魏崢) on Feb. 4, 1991.

After the surgery, Lee said, she has had to take anti-rejection medication for the long term to reduce her immune system’s ability to reject the transplanted organ.

Lee said that over the past three decades, she has also had to battle with two types of cancer, which, however, never led her to the idea of giving up on life.

“I can’t fail the expectations of the person who gave me my new life,” she said.

Meanwhile, Wei expressed hope that Lee will beat the longest-surviving heart transplant recipient in the world, who lived for 33 years following the surgery.

According to Wei, who is now superintendent of the hospital, the survival rate for heart transplant patients is between 75 percent and 70 percent after five years, drops to 50 percent after 10 years and less than 35 percent after 20 years.

Over his decades of practice as a cardiologist, Wei said the greatest challenge in his career is not the surgery itself, but the scarcity of donor hearts.

According to the Taipei-based Taiwan Organ Registry and Sharing Center, a total of 218 patients are on the waiting list for heart transplants in Taiwan. Of these, only three have received new hearts so far this year.

Since its first heart transplant surgery in July 1988, Cheng Hsin General Hospital has conducted a total of 537 such transplants, according to the hospital statistic as of Jan. 31.

(By Chang Ming-hsuan and Chung Yu-chen)