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Chinese Boy Undergoes First Surgery

April 16, 1998|DANIEL YI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Shao-Shao, the ailing 3-year-old Chinese boy whose father's desperate call for help on the Internet has generated a worldwide outpouring of support, has taken his first hopeful step into recovery.

The boy, who suffers from congenital heart disease, was listed in critical but stable condition Wednesday after surgery to correct a related lung condition at UCLA Children's Hospital.

He is doing as well as could be expected, said Dr. Juan Alejos, the pediatric cardiologist at the hospital overseeing the case.

The operation, concluded late Tuesday night, was only the first that Shao-han Deng--nicknamed Shao-Shao, for "laughter" in Mandarin--must go through to survive.

More than $130,000 has been contributed to finance Shao-Shao's care since his father--told by doctors in China last summer that his son had no chance of survival--logged onto the Internet and began searching for experts who could help him.

His pleas found their way to an Internet-based support group for parents of children with heart disease, PDHeart List, whose members helped arrange for the family to come to the United States and consult with doctors here. Shao-Shao and his parents arrived in Los Angeles in January and got a more optimistic diagnosis at UCLA Children's Hospital.

Doctors Tuesday operated on Shao-Shao's pulmonary arteries to alleviate the pressure that his defective heart was causing on his lungs. If the procedure is successful, Shao-Shao will be eligible for subsequent heart operations.

Alejos said that it will take about three months before doctors know whether the boy's condition is stable enough for heart surgery. The doctor who operated, Dr. Hillel Laks, the center's chief of cardiac surgery, said there is a 50% chance of stabilization.

Wednesday morning, the boy, connected to monitors and tubes in the intensive care unit, was conscious and communicating, said his father, Yongxin Deng, who cut short his PhD studies in soil science to help his son.

"I think he is somewhat mad at us," he said, referring to Shao-Shao's grumpiness toward him and his wife, Han Dan.

Shao-Shao was born with just one ventricle in his heart. The condition causes the organ to pump too much blood to his lungs, among other complications. If Tuesday's operation is successful in relieving the pressure in the lungs, then doctors can rig the boy's heart to function with one ventricle.

Publicity about the boy, which began with a Times article, moved Ticketmaster Chief Executive Officer Fredric Rosen to donate $25,000.

"The whole thing makes the world seem smaller," Rosen said in a telephone interview before Tuesday's surgery. "A father fighting to save his son's life--there is nothing more inspiring than that."

Rosen also talked a friend, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, into making an equal donation. "His heartstrings were particularly tugged by this story," a spokeswoman for Riordan said.

About $80,000 more has poured in to a fund set up in Shao-Shao's name by a local Chinese American Christian organization.

David Lee, director of the Chinese Christian Herald Crusades, which has offices in Alhambra, said the fund is the largest in the organization's history.

One anonymous donor from the East Coast sent $38,000, but most of the checks have been in amounts of $100 to $200, Lee said.

After a quick spurt of checks--40 to 50 a day when the fund was first set up--the number has dwindled to about 10 a day, he said.

Brenda Isaacs-Booth, a friend of the Dengs who was with the family during the surgery, said offers of help have come from as far away as the Persian Gulf, Scotland and the Philippines.

Booth, a Burbank resident whose own 2-year-old son, Liam, suffers from heart disease, learned of Shao-Shao's plight over the Internet last year and has helped the family since, becoming very close to them.

"You work so hard to get to this point," she said after Shao-Shao's operation. "It is a huge relief that the surgery went without problems."

Deng said he is moved by the goodwill generated by his son's story, but feels ashamed that he had to seek the public's help.

"We did not have enough ability to save our son," Deng said. "But other people have."

The Dengs, who have used their life savings and borrowed money from relatives to come to Los Angeles, have depended dearly on the kindness of others.

A Simi Valley Chinese family has offered them housing and food indefinitely, and Booth has been instrumental in arranging meetings with doctors and coordinating medical care.

"It's a story of love, I think," Deng said Tuesday, after a tearful prayer session with his wife, their son and their pastor. "It is a story of care. A lot of people care."

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