Alden Boon

Altruistic Donor Lin Dilun “Loses” a Kidney but Gains a Second Family

March 6, 2016

In screenwriting, the superhero-saves-the-cat trope is one that raises the ire of professional readers. But at one point in his life, that was Lin Dilun’s everyday routine. As a Singapore Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) officer, he would answer calls to complaints of animal abuse. Saving animals trapped on precarious ledges was his call of duty.

Another ingredient of a superhero’s story? Complicated childhood. Checked once again for Dilun. “I was very young when my parents separated, and that probably made me more independent as I was left to my own devices.”

All through secondary school, Dilun was a member of the National Police Cadet Corps. It was then teamwork and discipline were inculcated in him. And he became privy to the life lesson that the world does not revolve around him. “It’s important for us to find our own place in this great big world we live in.”

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Perhaps his biggest feat ever, one that dwarves the collective karmic good of many, was donating his kidney to Bryan Liu. A boy with whom Dilun has no blood relations. A boy whose face he only gazed upon in person two days after the life-altering transplant.

Only 27 was Dilun — and Bryan six — when he “needlessly” opted to go under the knife in 2012. He first knew of the boy’s plight on 14 June 2010 after chancing upon a story featured in The New Paper. Bryan was born with only one kidney, which was abnormal. His mother, Madam Serene Ng, donated her own kidney to him when he was two years old, but a rare viral condition meant that it had to be removed.

By the time Bryan turned three, he was living with no kidneys and had to be on dialysis 10 hours a day. He also had to consume a cocktail of medications as well as receive growth hormone therapy.

Initially, Dilun did not give the story a serious thought. But something stirred in him when he read The New Paper’s follow-up report that none of the 25 Samaritans who stepped forward and pledged their kidneys was a suitable candidate. Dilun realised he shares the same blood type — O+— as Bryan. Perhaps it was a cosmic connection, as he has a half-sister about Bryan’s age, that spurred him to touch base with the family. He did so via the dedication page on Facebook titled “A Kidney for Bryan, A Gift of Life”.

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The heft of his decision soon became palpable when he was put through a slew of tests. Dilun’s first interview was held at National University Hospital’s kidney transplant office, and he went home armed with a 27-page literature with information on living kidney donation. Thereafter, a laborious journey of medical test after medical test as well as psychiatric assessments ensued.

“Most of the interviews centred on ensuring there was ‘informed consent’. As all good doctors will say, ‘First, do no harm.’ The medical team’s utmost priority was to ensure there was no long-term impact on my health and that I knew what I was signing up for.” He did. Dilun admits his body has taken a beating over the years and he wears his surgical scars like a badge of honour. “I’ve been through many surgeries before for broken bones and whatnot, and I know there are some risks involved with any procedure, be it minor or major.”

Read: Nazri Mohayadin’s Emotional Journey of Losing 40kg

While he was given the all clear on both physical and mental health aspects, hesitance came from one person — Madam Serene Neo, his mother. “Initially she urged me not to do it, out of concern for my own health. Eventually she came around, and backed my decision. At that point in time I could afford to give Bryan a kidney and save his life. That’s all that mattered. With assurance from the medical team that my health would be closely monitored, and the surgery was a low-risk one, it became a pretty easy decision to make.”

Encouragement also came from his pillars of support: the ones he counts his closest friends. He did not publicise his decision, a behaviour somewhat incongruous with today’s social-media-obsessed proclivities. Later in 2012, he came forward with the story as he wanted to raise awareness about living organ donation, even if it meant risking his personal privacy.

“It was the right decision.”

A seemingly-insurmountable hurdle soon presented itself. In October 2010, the ethics committee ruled “no” and the arrangement came to a halt. “Till now I have no idea why they said no. I was disappointed, naturally, but I just held out until six months later a meeting was reconvened.” Meanwhile, time was ticking. Bryan’s health debilitated: he had high blood pressure and suffered an infection of the peritoneum. Between 2010 to 2012, he was hospitalised for 20 times.

Fortunately, the ethics committee gave approval the second time around. However, because the validity of the medical tests had already expired, Dilun had to undergo all the tests once again.

Que sera, sera, they say, and that was the almost-carefree mindset Dilun had when he decided to go through with his decision. Any fear of death or medical complications was assuaged as he decided to leave it up to fate. As he lay reclined on the gurney and was being wheeled into the operating room, he felt nerves but mostly relief. “I was glad the transplant was finally going to happen.” The anaesthetic coursed through his veins, and when he regained consciousness four hours later, he was already in the recovery ward.

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We are all on this world to help one another.
As Ellen DeGeneres would say, ‘Be kind to one another.’

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“When I woke up, my first thought turned to Bryan, who was still in surgery. His family was barred from meeting me at the hospital. I only met him later when he was in the paediatric intensive care unit.” Immense relief was what he felt at the first meeting. Today, seeing Bryan grow up and live the life all kids should have is his validation. “It’s how I know I have made the right decision.”

Dilun’s life quickly returned to normalcy, and he even found love shortly after his awe-inspiring decision. Here the dapper 30-year-old is with his beautiful girlfriend, Daphne Lee.
Dilun’s life quickly returned to normalcy, and he even found love shortly after his awe-inspiring decision. Here the dapper 30-year-old is with his beautiful girlfriend, Daphne Lee.
Dilun introduced his girlfriend Daphne to scuba diving.
Dilun introduced his girlfriend Daphne to scuba diving.

A new outlook on life

Having gained a new perspective, Dilun started thinking about how he could make a real difference in his own way.  When the opportunity arose, he left his job in event consultancy and joined Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP) as a facilitator. He got in touch with bone marrow donors and matched them with patients in need of transplants.

His own experience imbued him with a unique ability to ease the minds of donors. “A lot of people didn’t and still don’t understand bone marrow donations. We spend a lot of time explaining to them the procedures, and the minimal impact the transplants have on their health and lifestyles. It’s all about furnishing donors with information so that they can give informed consent — much like what my own transplant coordinator did with me.”

In March 2016, Dilin had to say goodbye to Oreo, to whom he was a "foster parent".
In March 2016, Dilin had to say goodbye to Oreo, to whom he was a "foster parent".

Dilun then joined SPCA as an animal inspector. His greatest joy was recusing a litter of kittens whose mother did not survive the labour. Along with Daphne, he raised and fed them by hand. One kitten survived to adulthood, and is now living with his former BMDP colleague.

But unlike Bryan’s story, not all of Dilun’s encounters had a happy ending. “Some of the animals we work with may die at some point, and sometimes their deaths come by our own hands, that is, euthanasia. It’s about accepting the hard fact that it is for the animal’s own good and welfare. Ultimately, we are minimising the animal’s suffering.”

Truly, such resilience is what makes a superhero.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.

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