Cycling for a good cause

Cycling for a good cause
PHOTO: Cycling for a good cause

He almost died when air bubbles entered his heart through a catheter right after a dialysis session.

His disciple was so distressed by the incident, he begged Bhutanese monk, Neyphug Trulku Rinpoche, 34 to accept his kidney.

Neyphug Rinpoche, who had kidney failure, eventually underwent a kidney transplant.

The surgery took place in a private hospital here about three years ago.

Now that he no longer needs to be hooked onto the dialysis machine for hours, he wants to pay it forward.

He will be cycling 80km as part of the Wheels Of Love fund-raising carnival this Sunday, organised by the National Kidney Foundation (NKF).

The Buddhist professor, who teaches dharma classes at a centre in Singapore, said he was diagnosed with kidney disease in July 2008.

Neyphug Rinpoche, who is the ninth reincarnation of the founder of the 450-year-old Neyphug Monastery in Bhutan, said a biopsy showed that he was suffering from IgA nephropathy, or inflammation of the kidneys which can affect their ability to filter waste products.


He told The New Paper: "I was in denial that I had this condition, so I delayed going for a dialysis."

When Neyphug Rinpoche had his first dialysis session, he needed an eight-hour session, instead of the usual four.

He said: "After eight hours of dialysis, I collapsed. I threw up too as I was not used to undergoing this treatment."

However, he could see and think better after the dialysis.

But Neyphug Rinpoche delayed getting a transplant, despite having about 80 disciples from Bhutan and Singapore lining up to offer their kidneys to him, he said.

He said: "I was not ready to accept (their kidneys). (This is because ) in Buddhism, we do not 'harm' others for our own happiness. It's not fair to take someone's kidney."

But one day around August 2011, he almost died when air bubbles entered his heart through a catheter after a dialysis session here.

Neyphug Rinpoche recounted: "Suddenly, I was out of breath. I felt uncomfortable... I was also given oxygen right away. I came to my senses about half an hour later."

It was the angry reactions from his disciples after the incident that finally persuaded him to change his mind about getting a transplant.

He said: "One of my disciples suddenly swore, saying: 'You're not very kind. You'll hurt us.'

"Everyone was angry... I was quite nervous when I saw everyone crying."

Even though his donor, a 25-year-old Bhutanese who wishes to remain anonymous, was not the perfect match, Neyphug Rinpoche accepted his kidney.


The monk said: "He was looking after me and I see him as a family member as we grew up together."

Indeed, he regards his donor as his "mother" because he believes the donor gave him a new lease of life.

After a battery of tests and meetings with an ethics committee, the transplant took place on Nov 25, 2011 at Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

Neyphug Rinpoche is now determined to do something for kidney failure patients. So he approached the NKF and got involved in Wheels Of Love.

He picked up cycling as a hobby last year and has been riding twice a week, covering 30km a day.

Neyphug Rinpoche hopes that more donors will step up to help kidney patients.

To kidney patients, he said: "Don't be depressed. You can live a normal life. And to the donors, there's a 99 per cent chance you can give a life."

Transplants between unrelated people uncommon

Whether a donor is related to the recipient or not, the pair have to go through an interview with an ethics committee before the kidney transplant is allowed to proceed.

But for unrelated cases, the rejection rates are higher, said Dr Akira Wu, a renal physician who practises at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre.

Unless the pair can show there is a close emotional bond between them, he added.

Dr Wu said: "The crux is emotional relationship. You have to prove that the donor is really close to the recipient. It is not enough to do it for religious purposes."

He said that in the last few years, fewer cases of approval were given to kidney transplants between unrelated cases.

He said: "It is very difficult to verify the closeness of the emotional relationship between two persons.

"If they (the committee) cannot do it, they cannot approve the transplant and this is to maintain the high ethical standards here."

Consultant nephrologist Dr Gordon Ku, 73, who is Neyphug Trulku Rinpoche's doctor, said that he had to present his patient's case during the interview.

Dr Ku, who also practises at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre and has been in practice for 44 years, said: "The committee wants to be certain that the transplant is for an altruistic donation and is not for commercial purposes."

Before even meeting the ethics committee, a donor has to undergo a series of tests to determine whether he or she is suitable to donate a kidney.


While blood group compatibility is optional these days, the donor has to be fit and the kidney condition must be perfect, said Dr Wu.

Once all the required tests are done, the meeting with the ethics committee will be arranged.

There will also be a cooling-off period of a week, added Dr Wu.

Once approval is given, the kidney transplant can take place as soon as within a month.

Dr Wu said that the transplant has to be done within 60 days of the approval, otherwise, another approval is needed.


A group of 50 cyclists comprising doctors, nurses and kidney transplant patients will be cycling 80km around Singapore to spread the message about kidney health.

They are doing it as part of Wheels Of Love, a fund-raising carnival organised by the National Kidney Foundation (NKF).The event, which is open to the public, will be held on Sunday.

The cyclists will start their ride at 5.30am at ITE College East. They will wear bright yellow jerseys with the message: "Caution! Diabetes ahead! Care for your kidneys!"

Members of the public can buy coupons that can be exchanged for food, games and even massages at the carnival, which is open from 9am to 3pm.


WHEN: Sept 21

WHERE: ITE College East, 10 Simei Avenue

This article was first published on Sept 19, 2014.
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