Doctor Liu Dong leaves the operating room at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hospital with the donor's lungs. (Wang Yue/CGTN Photo)
On September 9, 2017, at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hospital in Guangzhou, located northwest of Hong Kong, doctors removed the lungs from a 51-year-old male who had died of a sudden hemorrhage and placed them in a special shipping container.
By 4:30, the doctors were in route to the airport, to catch a 6 p.m. flight to Beijing. Over 2,000 kilometers away at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital, two patients suffering from pulmonary fibrosis were waiting for each lung.
"These two patients are very sick," said Dr. Chen Jingyu, one of China's leading lung transplant surgeons, who was waiting in Beijing. "Without the selfless donor, they may not be able to last much longer."
Dr. Chen is the vice director of Wuxi People's Hospital, near Shanghai. He performs almost 70 percent of lung transplant operations in China. In March 2017, he was ranked second to the China-Japan Friendship Hospital, where he has been helping to build a lung transplant center.
In Guangzhou, the medical team bringing the donor's lungs was caught up in rush-hour traffic. The possibility of missing their flight caused them considerable anxiety, as typical, if the journey takes longer than six hours, the quality of the donor's lungs is seriously impaired.
Two years ago, the team was denied permission to board a plane, because they had arrived after the check-in deadline.
"It was on October 4, 2015, also at Guangzhou airport," said Dr. Chen. "We arrived 20 minutes before take-off. They hadn't closed the cabin door, but they refused our boarding."
Infuriated and helpless, Dr. Chen vented his frustration in a tweet. His post went viral and attracted the attention of the media.
"The airlines could open an emergency lane, a Green Channel, that could take us directly to the parking lot and help us on board quickly," he said in a 2015 interview with CCTV.
He also put his case to the country's parliament, the National People's Congress. Finally, on May 6, 2016, in a paper jointly issued by six agencies, a Green Channel for organ transport was formally established. The agencies that helped make this possible were the National Health and Family Planning Commission, the Ministries of Public Security, Transport, Civil Aviation and Railways, and the Red Cross.
"Previously, in almost a third of donor cases, we didn't dare to go to assess or transport them," said Dr. Chen. "But now, wherever there are donated lungs, I'll always go to assess them, since I have the Green Channel to support me."
In 2017, China's civil aviation Green Channel was used 843 times, transporting a total of 860 organs.
Back in Guangzhou, the medical team arrived at the airport ten minutes before take-off. This time, an emergency lane was open for them to pass quickly through the boarding formalities and security check.
Less than five hours after being removed, the donor's lungs reached the hospital in Beijing, potentially saving two lives.