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Heartopener to Spread Gospel with a New Heart and Music

~ Interview with David Kwan, Member of SKH St Paul’s Church and a heart transplant recipient
By Amy Fung 

        61-year-old David Kwan’s heart has been opened three times for surgery in his life. With luck, he eventually underwent a heart transplant in 2006 though being let down for three times while waiting. Three or four years later, his kidney function was found deteriorating that he has to receive peritoneal dialysis until a kidney transplant…… Despite the long life-and-death struggle, David (below photo) does not feel pitiful at all. On the contrary, with the new heart, he formed a band called, “The Heartopeners” (i.e. “Happy People” in Chinese), with his church members to spread gospel and to communicate with God through music. “God creates you, so you can count on Him. And you have to serve God as long as you live,” said David.


Heart problem first found at young age
        Tuberculosis was prevelant in Hong Kong in the 1950s, so the Student Health Service Centre provided chest x-ray for all school children at that time. The size of his heart was found enlarged by the x-ray test when David was six, but his family doctor said it should not be a big problem. Therefore, nobody took it serious until he got the first heart attack when he had started working for two or three years after graduation.
        David has all along been a Hi-Fi enthusiast and determined to develop his interest into career. At the age of 21, he finished his study of electronic engineering at the Hong Kong Technical College (predecessor of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University), and got a job at Shun Hing Group – the sole agent for many foreign branded Hi-Fi products. With his good English and sound knowledge of Hi-Fi equipment, David was soon promoted by the Group’s founder Mr Mong Man-wai to the sales department in the headquarters after working at the maintenance department for two years. “Perhaps the office’s air conditioning temperature was so low that let me get rheumatic fever. I felt very dizzy all the time, and my joints swelled. There were also lots of problems of my heart – it beat irregularly and the valves did not close properly that the blood was regurgitating backwards,” said David. Nevertheless, the doctor said that he was doing well, and would be recovered soon. David, therefore, got back to work after taking time off for six weeks. To his dismay, there was another heart attack after he returned to work for two weeks. This time, his situation was much worse; he had to take prescribed steroid for one year to enhance his strength.
Back to normal with primary treatment
        Did it work? “Yes, of course, and very well! I can do almost everything, say hiking at Pat Sin Leng, playing tennis, and cycling around the Happy Valley Racecourse every Sunday after church,” David said. Indeed, he was very active and outgoing when he was young. However, five or six years later, he was no longer physically fit for vigorous activity, and had to follow the doctor’s advice to quit his favourite sport – tennis.
        In spite of all the efforts, one of his heart valves had shrunk from a one-dollar coin to a 50-cent coin in size that David had to open his heart for the first surgery in 1980. Shortly after the operation, he married his wife and gave birth to his only son, Shaun (left on below photo), leading a happy, normal life until the relapse in 1994.
        In 1994, David was working at the famous British-based trading company – Dodwell & Co. He was one of the key executives selected to facilitate the company’s localisation due to the Hong Kong handover in 1997. The intensive training, workload and frequent business parties increased the burden on his heart. He thus had to open his heart again to implant an artificial heart valve as replacement in 1995. This time, the success rate had however been dropped to 50% from 90% in last operation.
        David enjoyed a few years of peace after the second heart surgery.
On the brink of death
        Going to work one day in 2002, David felt dizzy all of a sudden. Used to pounding heavily, his heart seemed to stop beating, failing to pump enough blood and oxygen to the brain. After consulting the doctor, he was admitted to the Grantham Hospital for a 24-hour observation. It was found that his heart did stop beating several times, five seconds for each stop. “If I didn’t wake up and kept sleeping, I would pass away,” he said. Hence, he had a surgery to put an ICD (Implantable Cardiovertor Defibrillator) in his chest. This device delivers life-saving shocks if a dangerous heart rhythm is detected.
        In the following two or three years, David got six ICD shocks because his heart stopped racing. As if in a roller coaster ride, he felt horrible after being shocked. “My whole body feels totally powerless after the ICD shock. It is like a massive thump on your head, and you can feel the pains from head to toe, simply awful!” he said. With irregular heart rate, David became tired very easily, and would feel short of breath just by climbing a short stairway. Sometimes, his mind went blank without sufficient blood and oxygen pumped to the brain. It was also terrible for him to feel the heart racing uncontrollably up and down inside his body. Every night before sleep, he had to pile up three pillows, and lay on it for half an hour to slow down his heart beat.
        “From September to December in 2004, I had to go to the hospital once or twice a month and stayed for a whole week each time. My heart felt like a big balloon that I could hardly sleep at all.” David implored the doctor to place him on the heart transplant waiting list. Though his request was accepted, the doctor told him, “Whether you can make it is up to your luck but us.” In fact, only one in every five patients on the waiting list can receive the heart from the matched donor – the chance of getting a heart transplant is slim. 
Stressed to wait for a new heart
        On the waiting list for 14 months, David received calls from the hospital for heart transplantation for three times; yet none of them fulfilled his wish – he served as standby patient in two operations, and the donor family changed their mind at the last minute in the third one. “I was in the taxi rushing to the hospital. Suddenly, a nurse phoned me, ‘We’re sorry, David. There’s a problem with the donor family. Please go back home first.’ I was so disappointed. It’s just like asking a child to dress up for a good meal in a classy restaurant; but in fact there’s no dining out at all. He will be very upset after dressing up. And I was like that child.”
        Bedridden and moody, David couldn’t help questioning his mother one day, “Why are you so selfish? Why am I the only one to get sick among the five brothers and sisters?” His mother quietly replied, “Perhaps this is God’s will to create you. Count on God and serve the Church with the best of you. This may be better to you. Remember, your lifeblood lies in the Church.” In good faith, David never doubted God’s will. Not only was he eager to participate in the ministry at St Paul’s Church, he was also appointed to establish St Matthew’s Church with members of other churches in 1993. David is always the hard-core member in the Church. Due to his health problems, he has been moving back from the front line gradually, still he keeps on supporting the service of the church’s brothers and sisters in spirit.
        28 February 2006 is the most important day in David’s life - a not-yet-30-year-old man was killed in a traffic accident, and his family followed his wish to donate his organs. It is the third time for David to open his heart, but this time, it is for transplantation.
        Fortunately, David’s 57-year-old body does not reject the implanted heart from a young, healthy donor. On the contrary, it gives him a new lease of life with new energy. Besides starting his own company, he formed a worship band, “The Heartopeners” (i.e. “Happy People” in Chinese), with five church members to perform the music ministry of St Paul’s Church. Every month, they gather to play music, study Bible and share with each other on a specific theme. They have also been invited to give over 15 performances in many places, including chapels in Jiangmen, Guangzhou and Shenzhen in the mainland, as well as Dawn Island and elderly homes in Hong Kong. “We will go wherever we are needed,” David said. To him, music is not just the way to spread God’s Good News, but more importantly his communication with God.
        David’s story is not yet finished however as he was diagnosed with renal problems in March 2009. Quickly getting deteriorated in just a month, his kidneys lost the function of detoxification because of anemia that made him give cloudy urine, throw up easily, and feel powerless of his limbs. The doctor estimated that his kidneys would fail to function in one year, and thus treated him with peritoneal dialysis. By inserting a catheter into his peritoneal cavity, dialysing fluid can be introduced via it to remove toxins and water from the blood through the peritoneum, and the “dirty fluid” is then drained out after a certain period of time. To go on playing guitar in the band, David successfully persuaded the doctor to insert the catheter into the left side of his abdomen, avoiding contact between the guitar and the catheter exit site on the right side of his abdomen.
Live to serve
        “The mission of my life is to maintain the relationship with God, and above all, to serve God. If I failed to do so, why do I need the surgery to continue my life?” David said with no reservation. The doctor, also a Christian, did make an exception for him by surgically inserting the catheter into the left side of his abdomen as he requested. On dialysis three times a day, David has his kidney problems fixed at the end. A glutton for work, he is however medically advised to have less work, more rest, and it is hard for him to follow - you know, he had four business trips to the US, Canada and Europe in one month right after the heart transplant, and did not feel tired at all!
        To help out with his father’s business, his only son Shaun, who had already obtained the Pilot License in Australia and was accumulating his flight time, suspended his training to rush back home in the mid of last year. “It must be lies if I said I’m not worried. Having no brothers and sisters but mum in Hong Kong, how can I feel not concerned when my dad is in trouble? It’s impossible.” To Shaun, family is always his top priority when compared to his career.
        Crossing a hurdle after another, David feels most thankful for the support and prays of all the pastors and fellow church members. “It’s my illness that let me feel the love of everyone around, in particular my son’s devotion to the family.” As an organ recipient, David truly hopes that more and more people can support organ donation, giving the patients who are still struggling against death on the transplant waiting list a precious chance to continue their life and their service to God.

2011-04-17   更新
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