Tashi Lhagyal, a Tibetan resident who has Kashin-Beck disease – a disorder of the bones and joints – is grateful there's a chance he'll finally recover from his illness, as he is being provided free medical treatment by top medics in Beijing.
Together with 11 other Tibetan KBD patients, Tashi Lhagyal is currently in Beijing for treatment at the Peking University People's Hospital.
Traveling more than 2,800 kilometers from Lhorong county in Chamdo prefecture, Tibet autonomous region, the patients are the first with the disorder to receive treatment this year. Their treatment is being covered by the China Overseas-Educated Scholars Development Foundation and the Beijing Joint Care Foundation, which have been working for a number of years to help Tibet residents with the disease.
He Fang, director of the foundation's project management department, said recently that five of the 12 patients underwent surgery on Jan 10, and the rest are expected to follow within the next few weeks.
With some patients in critical condition, Peking University People's Hospital held teletherapy consultations on the more complex cases with outside experts, He said, including with doctors from New York's Hospital for Special Surgery, the top orthopedics hospital in the United States.
Located in northeastern Tibet, Lhorong has a high incidence of KBD.
Chamdo city has more than 6,000 people with the disease, including at least 5,000 patients in the county. Since 2019, 244 people from Chamdo have received free hip and knee replacements through the project.
In the past, their medical bills were paid by charities. The project also offers training courses for doctors wishing to improve their ability to treat the disease.
Lin Jianhao, director of the bone and joint department at the Peking University People's Hospital, a major contributor to the project, has been making field trips to rural Lhorong to do surveys and screen for the disease with his medical team.
"Bone experts from key hospitals in Beijing participated in health checkups, diagnosis, preoperative evaluations and operation planning for the 12 patients," Lin said. "They are mostly ages 30 to 60. The eldest is 71."
The 12 patients are the sixth group from Tibet to receive treatment in Beijing, said Lin, who also serves as the head of China's national treatment team for KBD and skeletal fluorosis.
"The condition (of the chosen 12) is more critical, which is why they have been taken to Beijing for treatment," he added.
The Lhorong county health commission has handled coordination between the patients, the foundation and medics in Beijing, and commission staff accompanied patients during treatment.
According to the commission, with the support of the China Overseas-Educated Scholars Development Foundation and the Beijing Joint Care Foundation, more than 1,800 KBD diagnoses have been made in the county, with 187 patients receiving free hip and knee replacements.
"Thanks to the support of the charities, and increased acknowledgment and awareness of KBD prevention, the city has not reported any new cases since 2017," said a member of the commission who preferred to remain anonymous, adding that KBD prevention work has been taking place in the county, helping residents better understand the nature of their disease.
"Compared to before, more villagers are willing to accept surgery, residents have become more active in prevention and treatment, and more than 600 patients in the county have requested surgery," the source said.
Tashi Lhagyal said that he has had the disease for 10 years and felt lucky and grateful to receive help from the charity and professionals in Beijing.
"It's my first time in Beijing," he said. "The people from the hospital and the foundation are all very kind to us patients. I will never forget that our country gave me the chance to stand up again, and I want to thank all those who have supported me on my difficult journey."
The project aims to help patients in and around Lhasa, Tibet's capital. According to the latest information from the foundation, it has signed cooperation agreements on KBD treatment with the China Overseas-Educated Scholars Development Foundation, the Lhasa Municipal Health Commission and the Beijing Aid-Tibet Headquarters in a new step toward expanding work in the Lhasa area in the near future.