When Song Hee was 11 years old, her mother noticed an abnormal curve in her daughter’s back. A doctor diagnosed scoliosis, a lateral, or sideways, curvature of the spine, the shape of the letter “C” or “S.” Song Hee’s condition became so bad that surgery was needed. But Song Hee would not accept a blood transfusion. Awake! asked her about her experience.
When you were first diagnosed, were doctors able to help you?
For about three years, I was monitored by two doctors, but the curvature in my spine continued to increase. In fact, it became so bad that my spine began pressing against my heart and lungs, making breathing difficult. Surgery was the unavoidable next step.
Did you agree to surgery?
Yes. But I was told that the operation would be difficult. By then, my spinal curvature was 116 degrees, which is very severe. In my case, however, surgery posed a special challenge. Because of my religious convictions, which are based on the Bible, I would not accept a blood transfusion.*
Did you find a surgeon who was willing to do the procedure?
My mother and I saw a specialist in my home state of Florida, U.S.A. However, when I told him that I would not accept blood, he said that no surgeon would perform such a complicated procedure on me under those circumstances. What is more, he said that I might not live to be 20 without surgery. I was only 14.
Did you explain to him the reason for your convictions?
Yes. I told him that my beliefs were based on the Bible, pointing out that God declared blood sacred, whether human or animal blood.* For an Israelite, even eating blood was a capital offense!* I also showed him Acts 15:19, 20. Addressed to Christians, it says in part: “Abstain from . . . blood.” This means it should not be taken into one’s body in any way—orally or intravenously.
How did the surgeon respond?
He still insisted that he would have to administer a blood transfusion. And to my surprise, the hospital said that if I accepted blood, they would not charge anything for the operation.
That was quite an offer! What did you and your mother do?
Although no one seemed willing to perform the surgery without blood, we firmly decided to stick to our beliefs. Then things got even more complicated. Legally, I was still a minor. So because my condition was becoming critical, my case went to court. Thankfully, however, the Florida state attorney gave us 30 days to find a surgeon who would respect my wishes.
Did you find someone?
Yes! The local Hospital Liaison Committee of Jehovah’s Witnesses kindly contacted a scoliosis specialist in New York who felt positive about the procedure and agreed to see me. So we met the court’s deadline.*
How did the surgery go?
It was a complete success! In order to straighten my spine, the surgeon, Dr. Robert M. Bernstein, inserted adjustable rods into my back. He performed the surgery in two stages two weeks apart.
Why two stages?
If the first procedure had resulted in significant blood loss, the interval would have given my body time to produce more red blood cells prior to the second procedure. As things worked out, in both procedures I lost very little blood, thanks to the surgical team’s good planning, skill, and meticulous work. I also made a strong recovery, free of the complications that can result from blood transfusion.*
How did your surgeon feel about the outcome?
Doctors should take the whole patient into account
He was delighted! “Medical care,” he said, “is not just about performing operations.” Doctors, he felt, should take the whole patient into account, including his or her beliefs and values. Many people besides Jehovah’s Witnesses would fully endorse that view.
Song Hee’s mother is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Song Hee shares her mother’s faith and was baptized in 2012 at 16 years of age.
Hospital Liaison Committees help Witness patients locate doctors who will provide good medical treatment without using blood transfusions.
In an article on the risks of blood transfusion, the Clinical Excellence Commission, New South Wales (Australia) Health, states: “A blood transfusion is a living tissue transplant. With any transplant the human body is innately primed to react to something foreign. The safety implications of this are significant.”