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Time is ticking for Olivia Roth in her bid to raise 400,000 yuan ($58,800) for her Chinese friend who is suffering from leukemia. Liu Jiangtao, from Shandong Province, desperately needs a life-saving bone marrow transplant operation and his poverty-stricken family cannot afford the procedure. But Roth has made a good start, already raising more than 70,000 yuan.

Olivia Roth is racing against time to raise money for her Chinese friend Liu Jiangtao who needs a life-saving bone marrow transplant operation. 

Over the past year the French woman, who now studies in Central University for Nationalities in Beijing, has developed a special bond with Liu. This friendship has pushed her to lift her efforts and ensure the operation goes ahead.

"Doctors say the operation should be carried out as soon as possible, for any stronger chemotherapy sharply weakens his health," she says.

"He has suffered much since last summer."

Every time she talks about Liu's illness, the 40-year-old is filled with emotion.

"Liu and his family cannot afford this operation, and his condition is getting worse. It is an extreme emergency. He is given only 15 days to prepare for the operation."

Born of a peasant family, Liu began to study in Shandong Normal University in 2003 after winning a scholarship but still needed to do part-time jobs to pay his living costs.

His future was looking bright thanks to excellent performances at the university but life is often never straightforward.

Soon after graduating from the university, Liu discovered he had contracted the deadly disease early this year. His farming family also suffered a succession of bad harvests reducing them to poverty.

Roth made up her mind to call local enterprises in Shandong one by one, hoping they were relented to donate money, but her efforts bore little fruit.

But she did not give up.

"If we called someone friend, we should be willing to share the happiness and the sorrow," she says.

She then called on her European friends for help and was able to raise 60,000 yuan ($8,824). One man, Ernst Flugel donated 4,000 euro (40,000 yuan) to China Children and Teenager's Fund. The money will go to the hospital before the operation is all set.

Roth's reason for coming to China was inspired by the alluring power of Chinese art. Roth used to work for a communications company in Germany for six years and one day she saw a vase made in Zibo of Shandong in a German museum. The unique shape and beauty of this handicraft stimulated her passion for ceramics and her new life began.

In 2000 she began studying at University College Falmouth in Britain and later trained in pottery art in France. She later won a scholarship to study in China and in 2006 came to Zibo, to further her ceramic education.

She was apprenticed to Shao Shiqing, a noted pottery artist in Shandong, who had worked with ceramics for 60 years.

Meanwhile, Roth began studying Chinese at Shandong Normal University located in Jinan, where she came cross Liu, a third-year student majoring in foreign trade.

Since Roth could not speak a word of Chinese at that time, getting through each day became a major challenge.

She could not even buy the daily necessities, such as soap or shampoo. Then Liu walked into her life.

"It happened in the library. I was searching for ceramic books but got totally lost with the Chinese-language computer, and then Liu help me out," she recalls.

They soon became good friends and met each week for language exchange. Roth was deeply impressed by the humble, passionate and curious young man. In a short span of one year, the two struck up a tight friendship.

In late 2007 she heard that Liu was in hospital, but she didn't realize how serious it was until she saw Liu enclosed in a large plastic tent surrounded by complicated medical instruments preventing infection.

"I was really taken aback, and had a hunch later that it was much more serious than what his friends told me, " she says.

Roth later learned from her uncle, a doctor in Germany, that the equipment she saw in Liu's hospital ward was used for patients with blood disease.

The French woman had a frank conversation with Liu and encouraged him to ask a doctor for more details.

"I believe that if he knows the reality, he can react," Roth says. He discovered the bitter truth and Roth made him a promise: "I will help you."

She visited Liu every week, and the trip to Liu's hospital usually took a four-hour bus ride. She also established a website to share Liu's story with her friends, hoping to get help from more people.

"All I got is constant reassurance from my Chinese friends, which makes me nervous," Liu says.

"I can see their sorrow and regret in their eyes. Instead, Roth always encourages me to confront my pain with few yet supportive words."

Accompanied by his parents, Liu was transferred to Beijing 307 Hospital in June this year, and began his chemotherapy treatment.

"I supposed his spirit might began to sag due to the suffering and terrible living condition of his family, but Liu is very self-controlled during the treatment, concealing his grief from friends," Roth says. She came to Beijing's Central University of Nationalities to further her Chinese learning in the summer of 2008.

Liu's family has spent most of their life's savings on the treatment in Shandong and was facing difficulty paying the bills in Beijing.

The good news is that Liu's sister Liu Juan has the "matching" bone marrow.

Liu has been undergoing chemotherapy in the past few weeks. Doctors will check him this week to see whether his conditions are well enough for the operation.

Last Friday, Roth posted an endowment drive for Liu in the Central University of Nationalities and collected a total of 10,725 yuan ($1,600).

"China is a nation of friendship, and I believe Chinese compatriots will come to his rescue," she says.

For more information, visit http://blog.sina.com.cn/liujiangtao307.

(China Daily November 17, 2008)

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