'Bethune in Daqing' Brings Light Back to Patients

ByYuan Haoyan January 23, 2023

'Bethune in Daqing' Brings Light Back to Patients


Popova Liliya Anatolyvna, an 82-year-old ophthalmologist from Kazakhstan, is chief foreign expert at Daqing Ophthalmology Hospital, in Daqing, in Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province. During the past 24 years, while working at the hospital, Popova, who has a benevolent heart and exquisite medical skills, has relieved more than 200,000 patients of pain and darkness — by restoring their sight.

Popova has been dedicated to clinical and scientific research in ophthalmology for more than 50 years. After she retired from the ophthalmology department of Alma-Ata Central Hospital, in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, Popova was invited by Yu Yaoguang, founder of Daqing Ophthalmology Hospital, in 1998 to provide medical guidance at the then-newly established hospital.

"I had heard much about China from my grandmother, so I was interested in and curious about China. I wanted to know what China was like, I wanted to see the Chinese people and bring my medical skills to them. So, I accepted the invitation." Popova recalls. 

'Bethune in Daqing' Brings Light Back to Patients
Celebrating Spring Festival


She says she was also impressed by Yu, who explained the hospital's vision and future goals to her at that time. "Yu told me the hospital mainly focused on serving ordinary people and solving their eye problems. In fact, that was also my original aspiration for becoming an ophthalmologist," she recalls. Thus, she became the first foreign expert at the hospital, as well as the first in Daqing since China's reform and opening-up.

She brought advanced technology to China, and she unreservedly passed on her medical skills to young Chinese doctors. Under her guidance, the young doctors have gained a greater understanding of the theoretical knowledge of ophthalmology, and they have constantly improved their clinical-practice skills. 

"A doctor should not only have rich knowledge and experience, but also understand the pain of the patients. Only those who are willing to help and save their patients can be regarded as good doctors," she often tells her colleagues. 

'Bethune in Daqing' Brings Light Back to Patients
Popova Liliya Anatolyvna talks with young doctors at Daqing Ophthalmology Hospital.


Popova is not only an outstanding doctor, but also a knowledgeable scholar. She has written five books, and she has had more than 30 influential papers published in renowned ophthalmology journals.

In addition to treating patients at the hospital, Popova has participated in free clinic activities, organized by the hospital, and provided free medical services to numerous patients who live in the rural areas of Daqing, and in other cities in Heilongjiang Province.

As the hospital has developed, it has provided public information about eye health in villages, communities, factories, public institutions and kindergartens. "It's a meaningful thing, especially for those disadvantaged families. After being diagnosed with ophthalmological diseases, they can get discounts and even free treatments at our hospital, which may help them reduce their family's burden," Popova says.

Popova enjoys a good reputation among her patients and their families for her kindness, dedication and excellent medical skills, and she has forged deep friendships with countless patients. "When you help someone, that person's smile is the biggest appreciation, reward and recognition for you," Popova often says.

'Bethune in Daqing' Brings Light Back to Patients
Popova Liliya Anatolyvna received permanent resident status in China in 2016.


Chu Fengqin, in her 70s, and who suffers from glaucoma, is one of Popova's patients. Chu's daughter and son-in-law were both very busy with their work; but one day, her daughter asked for leave from work, to accompany Chu to the hospital. When Popova learned about her condition, she decided to visit Chu at her home for the follow-up checks and treatments. In the following two months, Popova visited Chu once a week, to check her eyes. Chu was deeply touched. She often invites Popova to her home to spend holidays together, and they have become like sisters.

Once, during a medical consultation in a village in Daqing's Datong District, Popova met a teacher, Wu Ping, who had a serious eye disease. Wu was nearly blind in her left eye, due to cataracts and a pupil defect, but she was worried about the cost of the required operation. 

Popova invited Wu to the hospital, and she performed the operation on Wu's left eye. Popova paid for the surgery. Wu's vision was largely restored. In a message of gratitude to Popova, Wu wrote, "It is you who has brought me the light and helped me back to the classroom again. Thank you sincerely."

'Bethune in Daqing' Brings Light Back to Patients
Popova Liliya Anatolyvna checks a farmer's eyes.


While providing free medical services in the countryside over the decades, Popova has witnessed great changes in China's rural areas. "In the past, we usually treated the patients in shabby village clinics, or in rooms provided by villagers. Now, the village clinics and hospitals have been constructed, as well as those in urban areas, and they are providing us with quite a comfortable working environment. And the villagers' living standards have also been greatly improved," Popova says.

Popova, commonly referred to as "Bethune in Daqing," in 2005 was awarded the Friendship Award, the highest honor granted by the Chinese Government to foreign experts, for her unremitting efforts and remarkable contributions to the development of ophthalmology in China. In 2008, Popova was awarded the title of Daqing Honorary Citizen. 

Popova was invited to attend both the ceremonies to celebrate the 60th and the 70th anniversaries of the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC), held at Tian'anmen Square, in Beijing, in 2009 and 2019.

'Bethune in Daqing' Brings Light Back to Patients
Popova Liliya Anatolyvna attended the ceremony to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in 2019.


On August 16, 2019, Popova attended the founding ceremony of the Belt and Road Ophthalmology Alliance, and she was named honorary director of the alliance's committee by the International Exchange and Cooperation Center of the National Health Commission of the PRC. 

Daqing Ophthalmology Hospital has reached cooperation agreements with several medical organizations in Russia. "I am happy to see our hospital has continued to introduce both talented ophthalmologists and advanced ophthalmological equipment. Many young doctors at our hospital have received opportunities to learn from and exchange ideas and skills with others at hospitals in countries along the Belt and Road." Popova says.

"That will help improve the surgical techniques of our doctors and the management level of our hospital. I believe our hospital will develop faster, and it will better serve our patients," Popova adds.

'Bethune in Daqing' Brings Light Back to Patients
Yu Yaoguang (first from left), head of Daqing Ophthalmology Hospital, presented special contribution awards to  Popova Liliya Anatolyvna (third from right) and four foreign experts at the ceremony marking the  20th anniversary of the establishment of the hospital on August 23, 2019.


Popova received permanent resident status in China in 2016, and she was awarded the title of the Most Beautiful Striver in Daqing in 2019. Popova, who has lived in China for 24 years, considers China to be her second homeland. 

Despite her age, she says she has never considered the notion of retirement. "I know that I am gradually getting older, but I still intend to work as long as I can see, my heart still beats, and I still have my patients' trust," she says.


Photos Supplied by Yuan Haoyan

(Women of China English Monthly December 2022 issue)


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