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Mourners pay final tribute to beloved liver surgeon

People bid farewell to the late liver and gallbladder specialist Wu Mengchao, China's top hepatic surgeon and an academician with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, at the Longhua Funeral House in Shanghai on Wednesday. Wu died at age 99 in Shanghai on May 22, 2021. (PHOTO BY GAO ERQIANG / CHINA DAILY)

Doctors, recovered patients and ordinary citizens bid farewell on Wednesday to Wu Mengchao, the "father of Chinese hepatobiliary surgery", in a funeral ceremony in Shanghai that commemorated the revered liver surgeon, who performed over 16,000 operations and saved around 20,000 lives over seven decades.

Wu retired in 2019 at age 97, becoming the world's longest-active liver surgeon. He passed away in Shanghai on Saturday at the age of 99 due to a long-term illness.

At the Shanghai Longhua Funeral House, people gathered in the rain at 10:30 am as they watched six ceremonial guards load Wu's casket into a hearse.

At around 2 pm, the hearse circled the Third Affiliated Hospital of the Naval Medical University, a medical facility specializing in liver treatment that Wu helped found. Medical workers from the hospital stood in the rain watching the car carrying their mentor and friend drive into the distance.

Yang Yicheng, a 23-year-old medical student, said that without Wu's efforts, China's hepatobiliary surgery could not have reached the height it enjoys today. "My decision to become a medical student is partially due to Wu's influence, because I want to be a doctor just like him."

Wang Tiantian and her family traveled to Shanghai to bid farewell to Wu.

Wang, who is from Suizhou, Hubei province, was saved by Wu in 2004 when the surgeon removed a roughly 4.5-kilogram tumor from her liver. The procedure not only saved Wang's life, but also spared her family the 300,000 yuan (US$46,950) cost of a liver transplant.

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Wang chose Sept 24, 2009, as her wedding date-exactly five years after the surgery-to commemorate Wu for giving her a new life. She is now the mother of two.

Yang Yicheng, a 23-year-old medical student, said that without "father of Chinese hepatobiliary surgery" Wu Mengchao's efforts, China's hepatobiliary surgery could not have reached the height it enjoys today

"When my children get older, I will take them to grandpa Wu's museum in Minqing county, Fujian province. I will tell them stories about Wu, and hope they can grow up to be someone like him who can contribute to society," she told Beijing Youth Daily.

Though only 1.6 meters tall, Wu was a towering figure in China's medical community, widely celebrated for his masterful surgical skills, pioneering spirit and meticulous care for patients.

Masterful skills

According to Wu's colleagues, he would warm his hands before checking on a patient, and help the patient dress after the examination. During routine ward visits, he frequently knelt to place slippers next to a patient's bed, where they would be most accessible.

Cheng Yue'e, a nurse who worked with Wu for over 30 years, said in 2018 that after a particularly difficult surgery that left Wu soaked in sweat, the surgeon sat in a chair and said, "If I were to collapse in the operating room, remember to wipe my face; don't let people see me with a face full of sweat."

According to Xinhua News Agency, Cheng further quoted Wu as saying: "I am 96 years old. I can't work as long as you youngsters, so I've got to make the best use of every second I have. So long as I live a day in this world, I will fight liver cancer for a day."

Yu Buwei, one of Wu's students and a senior anesthetist at Ruijin Hospital in Shanghai, told China Daily that Wu was very strict yet fair during work, but he also was very friendly and easy to get along with outside of work.

"He gave his all to his patients," Yu said. "Wu saved so many people and families, contributed so much to medicine in China, and trained so many talents. I think he left this world happy and content."

In 2012, Wu was named one of the 10 most inspiring luminaries in China.

READ MORE: Baby boy survives after liver transplant

"Sixty years ago, Wu built a surgery table that he never left," according to a speech given when Wu was presented his award. "He held a scalpel that is still sharp today; his commitment to medicine burns like a flame that never falters; he is a tireless workhorse, carrying patients, one after another, to safety."