Story and Photos by Song Zhenming | Earthquake Rehabilitation Project Officer | Heifer China
Translated by Kailah Weiss-Weinberg | Volunteer | Heifer China

Tian Yihua is a typical woman in China’s Hongzhai Village, Guangyuan City. She’s also a good sister. She donated a kidney to save her brother’s life. She’s an equally good daughter-in-law, taking meticulous care of her chronically ill mother-in-law for 10 years. She is hardworking and honest, with a kindhearted and filial nature.

Her parents are getting on in age and, when her father lost sight in both eyes at about 40, her brother Tian Yigang became the pillar of the family. All important tasks rested on his shoulders.

When you mention the kidney she donated, she can’t help but cry. Even before he fell sick, Tian Yigang has had a difficult life. When his daughter was 3 years old she went into a field in another village to eat sweet potatoes. Very unfortunately, the field had recently been sprayed with rat poison, and she died.

In September of 2008 Tian Yigang went to Shanghai to look for work doing manual labor. While there, he discovered he was suffering from uremia (a kidney disease). After many consultations, Tian Yigang decided to return to Guangyuan to seek treatment. Two months later he still was not showing signs of improvement, so he was transported to Sichuan's Huaxi Hospital. The doctors told him he had only two treatment options: long-term dialysis or a kidney transplant.

One year of dialysis would cost some tens of thousands of yuan, or Chinese currency, an unbearable cost for an average family like theirs (10,000 yuan equals about $1,160). But if not dialysis, he would need an appropriate kidney transplant option.

The entire family underwent physical exams to see if their kidneys were a match. Their older sister's blood type was different from her brother's, and the mother's kidneys were the wrong size. That only left Tian Yihua's kidneys. When measured against her brother's needed specifications, they were found to be a match.

Tian Yihua made the decision to donate a kidney to her brother, but she encountered firm opposition from her husband. He consulted the surgeon, who confirmed that a kidney donation indisputably affects the body and the future health of the donor, including medicine limitations and limited exertion while doing manual labor. Her husband worried that the surgery would not be successful and his wife would have wasted a kidney for naught, while the doctors would not be able to save Tian Yigang's life. In that case, he thought, wouldn't that be a dual loss of human resources?

Her husband's pleas, even his threat to divorce her should she go through with the operation, could not shake Tian Yihua's resolve. No one in her mother-in-law's family consented either. Tian Yihua's heart ached. She wanted to relieve her husband's anxiety, but she also wanted to save her brother's life. So Tian Yihua patiently began to try to persuade her husband, finding every spare moment to tell him what was weighing on her heart. She talked of the close relationship she shared with her older brother, and how in her older brother's extended family there were elderly parents and young children who needed him. Tian Yihua's daughter chimed in, saying, “Dad, why don't you just consent to Mom? I only have one maternal uncle!”

Finally Tian Yihua's pleas, along with her kind heart, moved her husband. On March 28, 2009, Tian Yigang and Tian Yihua underwent a successful kidney transplant. Tian Yihua gathered together over 10,000 yuan, or about $1,160, that she had saved bit-by-bit over the years and gave it all to her brother for his hospital bills.

Following the surgery, Tian Yihua's husband lavished care on her. All she needed to do was the laundry and cook; all of the heavy labor was done by her husband. When she speaks of her daughter, a beaming smile comes over Tian Yihua's face. “My daughter is really thoughtful. Though she's living at school now, whenever she comes home she helps me with the laundry, cooking, and with cleaning the house.” Today her brother's health has improved. He gets regular health check-ups and takes medicine.

Tian Yihua is relatively famous in her village for being an especially filial daughter-in-law. In 1997, Tian Yihua and her husband were still newlyweds when her mother-in-law fell ill. Her father-in-law had died young, her husband was often away as a migrant laborer, and they already had a young child. So the many responsibilities of caring for their young child and her ill mother-in-law all rested heavily on Tian Yihua's shoulders.

Her mother-in-law was quite sick, quickly becoming incapable of enunciating clearly, getting up from her bed, or living any sort of independent life. So Tian Yihua began to feed the old woman, massage her, comb her hair, bathe her, and help her use a bedpan. Every day this kept Tian Yihua busy until midnight, when she finally got a chance to rest. This level of support lasted for over 10 years until her mother-in-law passed away.

For all she had done for her mother-in-law and her older brother, Tian Yihua merely says, “It was my obligation.” This is truly the best possible interpretation of the maxim of “filial love towards elderly relatives.”

In August 2011, Tian Yihua was chosen in Sichuan's Competition for Paragons of Moral Virtue as the provincial winner. In September 2011 she obtained a nomination in the Third National Competition for Paragons of Virtue.

In December 2012, Tian Yihua received 4,425 yuan, or about $712, from Heifer in agricultural assistance. She said, “In society there is help from compassionate people from all walks of life.” She plans to make full use of her potential and carry forward the spirit of self-reliance by continuing to pass compassion forward, onto others.

 

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Heifer International

Heifer International is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization working with communities to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth.