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Sticking to his post: TCM master dedicated to saving COVID-19 patients

By Kou Jie (People's Daily Online)    17:19, April 23, 2020

The law of sacrifice is uniform throughout the world. To be effective, it demands the sacrifice of the bravest and the most spotless.

-Mahatma Gandhi

After 82 days of hard work in Wuhan, once the hardest-hit city by novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, 72-year-old Zhang Boli, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, finally returned to his hometown in Tianjin. Over the past few months, Zhang and his colleagues established China’s first makeshift hospital featuring traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to treat COVID-19 patients, coming up with new ideas to tackle the lethal virus.

While working as president of the Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Zhang was summoned to Wuhan to help curb the spread of COVID-19 on February 12. Zhang wipes away his tears when he thinks back to how severe the pandemic situation was in Wuhan, noting that his determination to help the people in Wuhan is unswerving.

“The situation must be very bad if an old man like me is summoned to the frontline. I never thought about refusing to go there, because I know the people in Wuhan need medical care, and the trust they gave me is too valuable to be wasted,” Zhang told the media.

Innovative approaches to the virus

Zhang spent most of his time as the chief consultant of China’s first TCM makeshift hospital in the wards checking on his patients, as well as communicating with his colleagues on ways to create new TCM prescriptions to cure the lethal disease.

Every morning, Zhang would visit his patients in person. After a long day of medical checks, his protection gear would be completely soaked in sweat. Even at night, he had to take part in countless meetings and research workshops with other doctors. His efforts paid off: just days after arriving in Wuhan, two TCM prescriptions were used to treat the patients.

“I also see this mission as an opportunity to promote TCM, as it previously proved to be very effective in the battle against SARS,” said Zhang. Zhang’s TCM team had made a great contribution to curbing of the spread of SARS in 2003, and his prescriptions and experience were then praised by the WHO and introduced to the world.

According to WHO statistics, over 10 percent of COVID-19 patients may develop severe symptoms. In Zhang’s makeshift hospital, only two to five percent of those who accepted TCM therapy developed such symptoms.

Between February 14 and March 10, Zhang’s TCM makeshift hospital received 564 patients, of whom 392 made full recoveries, while the others were sent to other hospitals for further observation. None of the patients developed critical illnesses, and none of the medical workers were infected.

“Since modern medicine has yet to develop vaccines or effective medicines to tackle the virus, TCM has provided an alternative and has already cured countless patients,” said Zhang.

“COVID-19 is a pandemic. When we look back throughout China’s history, we can find over 500 pandemics, over 300 of which were large-scale ones. TCM has been helping curb the spread of pandemics, and this time we have won a battle,” said Zhang.

Leaving his heart behind

Despite his own deteriorating health, Zhang has spent most of his time developing new treatments for his patients. A week after his arrival in Wuhan, Zhang was sent to hospital due to cholecystitis. Three days after undergoing surgery, he returned to his patients. Doctors warned that there were blood clots developing in his legs that could endanger his life, but he refused their advice to rest for two weeks.

When Zhang’s son, 45-year-old Zhang Lei, who is also a doctor, decided to visit his father, Zhang told him to stay with his patients. “You don’t need to visit me, just take care of your patients,” he said.

Inspired by his father, a day after the surgery, Zhang Lei applied to go to Wuhan to support the medical workers there. Over the next 20 days, he was so busy with work in Wuhan that he only met his father once - the day the makeshift hospital was officially closed.

On March 19, Zhang celebrated his birthday with his colleagues. On that day, no new confirmed cases were reported. Zhang told his colleagues: “The best birthday gift for me would be no new cases at all in Wuhan.”

After months of hard work, Zhang’s wish came true. Before returning home, Zhang told the media that Wuhan is a city of heroes, and the people there have made a great sacrifice to tackle the virus.

“I can say that Wuhan is now the safest place in China, but we must be vigilant. I will visit Wuhan every two months, and also train new TCM medical professionals,” said Zhang.  

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)
(Web editor: Kou Jie, Bianji)

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