He is blind, but he is only in his early 30s. And he had a chance of regaining his eyesight, even if only slightly, as long as he had his corneas.
But that didn't stop Shi Qiqiang from donating his left cornea so that a little girl named Miao Miao could have a healthy pair of eyes.
Shi thus didn't only become the first live cornea donor in China, but also inspired Miao Miao's mother, Liao Jun, to donate her corneas after death. And many other residents of Hangzhou in east China's Zhejiang Province have followed her.
Technically speaking, Shi could get back his eyesight if a cure for the disease that afflicts him is found because his right eye is still intact.
Two-year-old Miao Miao couldn't have expected a better New Year gift as the cornea transplant was carried out successfully in Hangzhou in the end of December 2006, CCTV reports.
Miao Miao has recovered well at Zhejiang People's Hospital, and can now grow up like a normal kid.
"Medical science couldn't have cured my eye disease. But my cornea can help another person see. And none could have been a better beneficiary than little Miao Miao. This is the greatest deed I've done in my life," Shi said.
Unlike Miao Miao, Shi was born with normal eyesight and healthy eyes. But the Hangzhou resident began suffering from a serious eye disease some years ago.
And two years ago, he became totally blind. "It was a bolt from the blue. My world turned black. I lost all confidence in myself." As if blindness was not enough of a curse, Shi's disease relapsed recently. He began suffering from acute pain in his left eye.
Doctors told him that the only way to save him from the pain was to remove his left eye. Also, since his cornea was in perfect condition, it could help another person see.
He hesitated initially, but in late December he decided to follow the doctors' advice even if that meant foregoing the little chance he had of seeing again.
Hong Chaoyang, the doctor in charge of the cornea transplant, was moved by Shi's deed. He said: "I've been a doctor for two decades but Shi is the first live cornea donor I've seen."
"The greatest factor that motivated Shi was Miao Miao. The minute Shi heard that a little girl would get his cornea, he began behaving as if he was the one about to get his eyesight back."
Long wait for donation
Miao Miao was born with a cornea tumor and had been waiting for a cornea donor for more than a year. Doctors had told her parents the best time for the cornea transplant was before she reached the age of three.
Shi has become something of a celebrity in Hangzhou, with many people visiting him to pay their respects, and others following his example to donate their corneas after death.
But perhaps his best friend today is Miao Miao. He spent a lot of time with her in hospital, and like any other girl of her age she kept asking him all sorts of questions.
More than 2 million people are waiting for cornea transplant in the country, according to the health department. But hospitals across the country can carry out only 2,000 to 2,500 cornea transplants a year because of a serious lack of donors.
"Many people don't want to donate their corneas after death because according to Chinese tradition a person's body should be complete even after death," Liu Ping, director of Heilongjiang Eye Bank, told Xinhua recently. The eye bank has got only a handful of cornea donors since it was set up in 1999.
"Donation of corneas after death should be promoted across society, and government officials should take the lead by becoming volunteer donors," Liu said.
Though China doesn't have a human organ donation regulation to guide and encourage donations, drivers in countries like the US are asked whether they want to donate their corneas after death when they apply for a licence.
(China Daily January 16, 2007)