Therese Hesketh: Laureate of West Lake Friendship Award in 2018
It was in 1986 that Therese Hesketh arrived in Hangzhou, a pilot city in the nation’s modernization drive. Over the past 32 years, she has worked as a doctor, teacher, expert and scholar in Hangzhou. The multiple identifications define her neatly: she becomes a better person through helping people.
Academically, Therese Hesketh has published more than 150 papers in internationally renowned academic journals such as the , , the and . Her achievements have been covered by BBC, CNN and the Guardian. As chief research fellow, she has headed more than 20 international projects. She has worked as an advisor to the British Government and she is a cofounder of the University College London Institute for Global Health.
So how does this brilliant woman’s life fit in the past 32 years of Hangzhou? How does this doctor, expert, scholar fit into the development of rural China in the past 32 years?
She is now deputy director of Medical College of Zhejiang University and dean of the Children’s Health Department of Public Health College of Zhejiang University. Respectively in September and October 2018, she received Honorary Citizenship of Hangzhou and West Lake Friendship Award.
Engaged by an American health and medicine institution, she came to work as a doctor at Hangzhou Children’s Hospital in 1986. She and her American colleagues set up in Hangzhou China’s first standardized ICU for newborns. Then they put into place 11 essential nursing care standards for newborns and started projects for immunization, malaria control, and safe pregnancy and childbirth.
In 1988, Therese Hesketh oversaw the delivery of Hangzhou’s first ever quadruplet girls at Hangzhou Children’s Hospital. The four girls are now artists. Hesketh still remembers how the quadruplets looked shortly after they were delivered.
Therese Hesketh has traveled far and wide across Zhejiang for work. A stack of photos in an envelope she cherishes records where she has been. She can’t count all of these places on her fingers. For many years she traveled across the province in order to save sick babies. Working as a doctor in Hangzhou, she saw too many babies die because they did not receive timely treatment at local hospitals. She decided to go to rural areas and promote nursing care among grassroots doctors.
In a public health project, she found that some rural hospitals prescribed too many medicines and put unnecessary emphasis on intravenous injection. Some doctors were careless about the use of antibiotics. With the assistance of UNICEF, Therese Hesketh and her colleagues set up a training project for improving emergency care for newborns in rural hospitals. Through the project, the hospitals received new equipment; doctors and nurses received better professional training.
In the past 32 years, Therese Hesketh has visited 11 provinces in China. She has had no time for taking a single sightseeing trip, but she has seen most of China due to her work. She feels grateful to local health administrations across China. “But for their unconditional support and all the arrangements, our projects would not have operated so smoothly,” she emphasized.
She is happy to see that public health service in both Hangzhou and the whole province has improved remarkably. Zhejiang has successfully reduced the infant mortality rate to 2.53‰, thanks to better medical and health care resources and equipment. She is now a professor in the Thousand Talents Program, which was established in 2008 by the Chinese government to recognize and recruit leading international experts in scientific research, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
Under her watch are graduate students including some from outside China. In China, Therese Hesketh is a workaholic. Her graduate students consider her a person of big heart. Back in London, she relaxes, enjoying herself. Her two children are adults now.
“Working as a doctor is a solemnly sacred undertaking. I worked 48-hour rounds at a London hospital at the beginning of my career. With that experience, I believe nothing would be too difficult afterwards,” she explained her dedication. Toward the end of the interview with me, she said, “As a doctor I hope all my patients become better. As a teacher, I hope to see my Chinese students are more interested in this world and explore more unknown realms.”