Saved from burns, Chinese man deeply indebted to Soviet doctors, nurses

Sixty-eight-year-old Meng Xianguo has a special bond with two Russian families, as two Soviet nurses saved his life over six decades ago.

Sixty-eight-year-old Meng Xianguo has a special bond with two Russian families, as two Soviet nurses saved his life over six decades ago.

"I probably wouldn't have survived without the doctors and nurses in the Soviet Union," said Meng, a Chinese farmer in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province.

Meng lived in the border village of Zhengqi by the Heilong River when he was young.

On an early spring day in 1958, Meng, only five years old at the time, was home alone when his clothes suddenly caught fire from a stove in the room. Though his family came to his rescue immediately, he suffered severe burns to his arm, shoulder and the right side of his face. His condition was grave.

The village was too far from the city, so his mother Zhang Jiying decided to seek help from people across the bank. With the help of Soviet residents who lived opposite the river, he was sent to a nearby hospital for treatment.

Meng had to undergo skin graft surgery to survive. His mother donated about 100 pieces of her skin, yet still they were not enough, so the hospital decided to solicit volunteers among the medical staff.

Two trainee nurses were selected, 21-year-old Valentina Doroshkina and 18-year-old Valentina Filatova. In total, the young women donated more than a hundred pieces of skin to Meng.

The skin grafts were a success. Thanks to the care of the medical staff, Meng eventually recovered. He was transferred to Irkutsk for further rehabilitation.

In the Soviet Union, Meng received free treatment in four medical institutions. The doctors and nurses fondly called him "our boy."

His mother Zhang Jiying made an appointment with the two nurses to meet again in the future, but she passed away before being able to see her son's lifesavers again.

In 2019, Meng traveled to Russia to seek the nurses. He visited Irkutsk and other places where he was treated and gladly found that people there remembered well the story of the boy with burns from China. He learned that nurse Valentina Doroshkina passed away at the age of 27.

Her sister Margarita Doroshkina said Valentina did not tell the family about her voluntary donation of skin until their mother saw the scars on her leg.

"Decades after her donation, seeing Meng and touching his skin on his right arm, it felt to me like seeing my sister again," said Margarita Doroshkina.

During Meng's stay in Russia, he did not find the family of the other nurse, though luckily her family later got in touch with him and came to visit him in China.

Meng still keeps in close touch with the families of the two nurses. They often share interesting news about their lives with each other over the Internet.

On Margarita Doroshkina's 80th birthday, Meng sent her birthday greetings.

"Almost all of the skin on the right side of my body comes from the nurses and doctors who went all out to save me. They are dearest to my heart and I owe them my life," he said.

"My life experience is proof of the close friendship between the peoples of the two countries," said Meng.

"Though the pandemic has prevented us from seeing each other, we are sure that we will meet again in the near future," he said.

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