A 60-year-old woman from Hualien County recently made a donation of NT$60,000 to the Fenglin Veterans Hospital, about 75 times more than what she had owed the hospital for 45 years since it treated her since she fell critically ill as a teenager.
Accompanied by her relatives, Hsiao Chiu-ing (蕭秋英) on Sept. 17 showed up at the hospital’s front desk with a stack of cash, saying that she was there to pay her “long-overdue debt” to the hospital.
The unusual request drew the attention of the hospital’s social work office director, Huang Ai-ling (黃嬡齡), who asked Hsiao to explain in detail the reason for her visit.
Hsiao said that about 45 years ago, when she was 15, she contracted Japanese encephalitis, a viral brain infection that almost killed her.
“At the time, I had been running a high fever for days and all the hospitals I went to refused to admit me, saying that I was already beyond help,” Hsiao said.
“Luckily, I was referred to the Fenglin hospital, which not only hospitalized me immediately, but also cured the infection and saved my life,” she added.
However, the treatments Hsiao received added up to a bill of NT$800 — a sum equivalent to three months’ salary for the average Taiwanese at the time — which was an astronomical figure for her impoverished family.
After realizing the financial predicament faced by Hsiao’s family, the hospital made an exception, allowing her to be discharged and deferring the payment of the bill indefinitely.
In the years that followed, Hsiao never forgot the hospital’s kindness, even after she moved from Hualien’s Rueisuei Township (瑞穗) to New Taipei City’s (新北市) Sanchong District (三重) to work at a factory, got married and started a family.
“My parents often reminded me to pay the medical bill once I was financially capable of doing so, but I failed to do so for the past 45 years,” Hsiao said.
She said she finally decided to pay her debt after she retired from her factory job and her children became financially independent.
She added that because she did not know how much the NT$800 in 1968 would amount to now, she decided to pay NT$60,000 to the hospital as a gesture of gratitude for its assistance.
However, as the hospital could not find Hsiao’s medical records because they were too old, she paid the bill in the form of a donation.
The money will be used to pay for treatments for underprivileged patients, the hospital said.
Huang said the hospital had never taken action against Hsiao to collect the outstanding payment because it usually absorbs bad debts that remain unpaid for a long time.
“Were it not for Mrs Hsiao coming forward, we wouldn’t have known about this,” Huang added.
Huang said she was touched by the unselfishness of the medical staff who treated Hsiao when she was critically ill and was grateful for the retiree’s generous contribution, adding that she hoped their benevolence would rub off on others and inspire more people to do good deeds.