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PKU Today in History - Apr. 10: PKU student initiated China’s first online rescue

APR . 06 2011

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PKU Today in History - a daily updated column featuring historic events about PKU and PKUers.



In order to cure a student named Zhu Ling from Tsinghua University, who suffered from thallotoxicosis, doctors from different countries took part in a special consultation for her, which went on through the Internet from April 10, 1995 on. Initiated by Bei Zhicheng, a student from Peking University (PKU), this online consultation made a huge splash in press circles both domestically and abroad.


Zhu Ling's appearance before the poisoning (File photo)


Zhu Ling was dying in March, 1994 with both physical and neural paralysis, coma, apnea, multiple organ dysfunction syndrome (MODS), as well as with other severe symptoms in progress, but the pathogeny remained unknown. As Zhu’s high school classmate, Bei Zhicheng was a student from PKU Department of Mechanics at that time. When he got to know that Zhu Ling was at death’s door, he rushed to visit her in hospital and then he was shocked to see a girl who once had been outgoing and healthy lying in bed unconsciously with many tubes stuck in her body and her fragile life maintained by the breathing machine. Afterwards, Bei lost himself in thought all the way back to PKU about how he could help Zhu, when an idea came up to his mind that he could ask for help on the Internet. Then, on the afternoon of April 10, 1995, Bei and his roommate Cai Quanqing sent an email titled “Who can help us?” which contained descriptions of Zhu’s situation, to nine medical online forums.


  Bei Zhicheng (File photo)


Beyond their imagination, they received over 100 replies from all over the world only within 3 days upon their appeal. Among all the repliers, 68% agreed that Zhu Ling had been chemically poisoned by heavy metal, while 50% further asserted the guilt of thallotoxicosis (the intoxication of thallium).


After making the definite diagnosis, doctors at Peking Union Medical College Hospital (PUMCH) used dimercaprol and hemofiltration for Zhu Ling’s detoxification. Learning this, several foreign experts pointed out that dimercaprol was not for specified detoxification of thallotoxicosis, and it might kill the patient by producing a renal failure. In the meantime, they put forward their advice that PUMCH should choose persral Prussian blue (a kind of industrial dyestuff) for the patient.


In less than 24 hours after Zhu Ling took Prussian blue, the amount of thallium in her body began to decline. 10 days later, the amount of thallium in her blood and cerebrospinal fluid fell away eventually.


Therefore, Zhu Ling became the first patient in China cured by a global consultation through the Internet.



Written by: Xu Xinyi
Edited by: Arthars
PKU News (Chinese)