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Villagers' health in hands of dedicated medic

By Sun Ruisheng in Daning, Shanxi, and Li Yang in Beijing | China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-05 07:54

Barefoot doctor He Xinglong has made 170,000 trips in the mountains, covering more than 400,000 kilometers, to visit patients at home in the past 17 years.[Sun Ruisheng/China Daily]

Motivated by the death of his grandpa, a barefoot doctor has made patients in a poor mountainous region his priority

Letang, a poverty-stricken mountain village that sits beside the Yellow River in Shanxi province's Daning county, is home to about 500 farmers. As a local saying goes, "Letang is the last place in the world a woman should look for a husband."

Today, most young people from Letang work elsewhere, leaving only about 200 villagers-mostly age 60 or older-to live a hand-to-mouth existence in loess cave dwellings.

However, He Xinglong, a barefoot doctor-a healthcare worker trained to attend the basic medical needs of villagers-in his mid 30s, is an exception. He chose to stay in Letang after graduating from a local nursing school in 1999, and finds great satisfaction in providing medical services to villagers in the area.

He said many people called him crazy when he first decided to stay in Letang, but that during the years, they have changed their mind and now appreciate his dedication to local communities.

In the past 17 years, He has made 170,000 trips in the mountains, covering more than 400,000 kilometers, to visit patients at home, and he has treated more than 4,600 people in 28 villages.

He does not demand payment for his trips, diagnoses or treatment, asking only for the basic cost of the medicine he provides, if needed.

After graduating, he refused offers from a county hospital in Daning, where his performance as an intern won recognition, and a pharmaceutical company in Taiyuan, the provincial capital.

"The villagers donated a total of 3,000 yuan ($435) of their hard-earned savings to pay for my college tuition fees after I received my school's letter of admission," he said.

He's grandpa, who raised him, passed away when he was 12. "If there had been a doctor in the village, he would not have died from a fever," He said. "That's why I was so determined to become a doctor for the people of my village."

Letang is 35 kilometers from the county town. Previously, it took several hours to walk through a difficult mountain pass to the nearest hospital. "When farmers got sick, they just waited and hoped they would recover from their illness. If not, they died," he said.

He was able to realize his dream when his father sold all his corn and his only two sheep in exchange for 900 yuan to buy his son some simple medical apparatus and instruments, and some common drugs, while He opened his clinic in a loess cave that was dug for his marriage.

At first, the villagers did not believe He had enough experience to be a doctor. To overcome the obstacle, he offered to treat them free of charge, gradually winning their trust.

Although he is only be able to treat some common illnesses, it makes a big difference to the villagers, as He is available around the clock.

"We can call him at any time and just wait for him to arrive," said Feng Jianzhong, a farmer from nearby Yunju village.

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