At noon on Wednesday 25 February, Aaron Zweig was rushed to Queen
Mary Hospital critically ill. Doctors explained to the distraught
Zweig family that Aaron had contracted a rare and dangerous infection
called acute viral myocarditis, and it had caused severe degeneration
of his heart muscle.
The next morning, Aaron was transferred to the cardiac unit at the Grantham
Hospital to receive specialist care. But matters were complicated
when doctors realized a severe blood clot had developed in his right
leg. While the doctors struggled to get circulation back to Aaron's
leg, his heart stopped three times. Each time, Aaron's incredible
will to survive prevailed. But to save his life, his leg unfortunately
had to be amputated.
"The surgeons and medical staff at the Grantham
were outstanding all the way through," said Prof Zweig. "It
scarcely seemed possible that after the operation was completed,
worse news was to follow."
The drugs used to thin Aaron's blood and help it flow around his
body were preventing his surgical wounds from clotting. Not only
was he hemorrhaging and in need of constant blood transfusions,
it was also becoming clear that the machine supporting Aaron's heart
was failing to cope.
The Zweigs were told that Aaron would need a new machine,
called a ventricular assist device (VAD), to support his heart if it was
to have any chance of recovering. The problem was that there was
no VAD in Hong Kong. Nor was there funding available to buy one
in the near future.
The VAD and the pumps that went with it, the Zweigs learnt, would cost over
HK$2 million to buy. More worryingly still, even if the money could
be found, the manufacturers were located in Germany and the device
would have to be shipped over to Hong Kong - a process requiring
time, which Aaron didn't necessarily have.
"It really was remarkable," said Prof Zweig. "Aaron became
the child of the whole community. At times there were over 60 people
at the hospital praying for him. And as soon as we knew how desperately
the VAD was needed, our friends leapt into action. A fund was set
up to raise money and one friend donated an incredible US$300,000
on his credit card right then and there."
Meanwhile at UST, faculty, staff and students were offering their support:
Prof Reinhard Renneberg of the Chemistry Department organized a
university-wide fundraising campaign, supported by President Chu
and helped by the Staff Association; Mrs Brenda Cheng, wife of Prof
Lilong Cai (Mechanical Engineering), who by a stroke of luck is an agent
of Berlin Heart, the makers of the VAD, negotiated to make sure the VAD
cleared customs as fast as possible; while many others, especially in
Prof Zweig's Department of Social Sciences, gave generously to the VAD fund.
Finally, only 60 hours after it was first mentioned by Aaron's
doctors and thanks to everyone's Herculean efforts, the
VAD and an accompanying team of specialist medics reached the Grantham
Hospital on the Monday after Aaron was first admitted.
Once attached to the machine, Aaron's heart finally had the
chance to rest fully and the process of recuperation could begin!
Now, only two
and a half months after suffering his acute viral myocarditis, a
beaming Aaron has returned home. His family, school
friends, synagogue and everyone at UST who knows him are thrilled
to pieces! "It really is incredible," said Prof Zweig. "The
support we received was overwhelming and we'd like to thank
everyone from the bottom of our hearts."
Aaron's shining character and bravery, apart from being an inspiration to so many,
have earned him the X-Box that his parents had previously been reluctant
to buy him (his dad says he's already very good at the game "Whacked")!
On 26 April, the young wonder boy started back at school on a part-time
basis, and will maintain a rigorous course of physiotherapy in tandem
with his schoolwork.
As for the VAD that helped save Aaron's life, it has been
donated to the Grantham Hospital. There it will help other patients
in the future, while serving as a tribute to Aaron's courage
and the kindness of the people who helped him.