Nearly 25 years ago I was working on an employee event for IBM, arranging for the then CEO, Louis Gerstner, to speak at an internal conference in Beijing. He was asked a question about IBM being “big and bureaucratic” and what were his views on the topic. He responded by explaining how some bureaucracies are good. By their sheer size and influence, they are important and achieve significant things. He encouraged people to look at IBM’s bureaucracies as a net positive. That given IBM’s size and resources, they can make a big, important and meaningful impact. His comments have stuck with me since that time, and I have looked at bureaucracy with more objectivity given his explanation.
An Inspiring Story From Taiwan
I was reminded of this when I met a friend in Taipei, Taiwan this past week. This was a friend from Beijing, China and he has lived in Beijing for 26 years just like me. We caught up over a coffee and he shared with me his amazing story.
This friend is an American guy, married to a Chinese woman from Henan, China. I promised given the sensitivity of the topic I would keep his name anonymous. During our coffee, I was curious how he and his family ended up in Taiwan. He described his incredible journey that goes like this:
Searching For A Perfect Match
At the beginning of Covid, in January 2020, this friend’s wife was diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia. She was in Beijing at the time and was told she needed to begin treatment immediately if she was going to live. This disease severely affected her immune system, and what was needed was an urgent bone marrow transplant. While she urgently began chemo treatments in Beijing, she and her husband began looking for possible matches. They visited several reputable hospitals in Beijing (which at the time were preparing themselves for an onslaught of Covid patients), and they did not find an adequate match. Apparently, the donor would need to match with as many as 12 bone marrow markers. They reached out to a private hospital which asked them if they wanted to broaden their search to Taiwan, and, eureka, they found a perfect match.
Finding A Willing Hospital
Their next order of business was to find a hospital in Taiwan that would take their case. They appealed to several without much luck, until two doctors at the Taiwan Veterans General Hospital reviewed their case and appealed to their Board to allow them to go ahead. Now, again, this was at the beginning of Covid and borders were closing. The hospital had nothing to gain by bringing a patient from Beijing to Taiwan for an immediate operation, especially during Covid, yet the Board of the hospital agreed to allow the doctors to move forward. All they needed was to get to Taiwan…but how? They did not have visas, and the wife, husband, their two kids and even my friend’s mother who was looking after the kids, did not have the proper paperwork.
Getting Visas For The Family
My friend appealed to a leader of the American Institute in Taiwan, the mission in Taiwan that serves American interests, who helped connect the couple with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Taiwan. My friend wrote a passionate letter about his situation to the head of the CDC, and they were granted the first healthcare exception visas to travel to Taipei for the transfusion. This was now five months after his wife’s initial diagnosis and less than three months after they found out his wife required an urgent transplant.
The family was on the next flight out of Beijing with the transfusion scheduled for one month later, after the mandatory 14-day quarantine and pre-transplant chemotherapy and preparation in the hospital.
Nearly three years later and my friend’s wife is now healthy and has recovered. While this family’s journey was full of challenges and tragedies (both his wife’s mother and his grandmother passed away during the process, when his mother was helping them in Taipei), the number of bureaucratic doors that opened from public servants who wanted to help is inspiring.
Not only did they find luck in identifying a perfect donor match, but also the impressive commitment of the doctors and Board at Taiwan Veterans General Hospital, the Taiwan CDC and the American Institute in Taiwan is amazing. The family also got help from AIT acclimating and finding an international school for their kids even though they arrived in Taipei only two months ahead of the semester. Even more surprising, they had a visa officer provide special attention to their case to work on different possibilities to help them extend their visas.
Shout Out To Taipei’s Community Of Helpful Citizens
I have always felt most comfortable when visiting Taiwan given the generosity of the people I have met and know there, and this friend’s story just confirmed that. What amazed me most is how public servants rose to the occasion to go out of their way to help with a family who had limited links to Taiwan. Not to mention this heroic donor, who by law they can meet only five years after the transfusion. “We have a very close sister somewhere in Hualian, we have to thank,” my friend commented.
I am so happy for this friend, and his story gives me confidence that even government bureaucracies can flex to serve humanity. A nice story to ponder during much of the election gymnastics we are experiencing.
Have a great week ahead.