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Outside the Lab Profession, Companion diagnostics

A Fond Farewell

Credit: Images for collage sourced from

It was during the spring of 2003 when a secret viral disease first emerged in China and rapidly spread worldwide, leading to a devastating pandemic.

During this critical time, Yanyong Jiang, Chairman of the Department of General Surgery at the 301 PLA General Hospital in Beijing, heard alarming reports that patients, physicians, and nurses in his hospital’s emergency room and respiratory medicine department were succumbing to an unknown respiratory disease. Similar cases and horrifying stories were also being reported in other hospitals across Beijing and the wider country.

As a senior and renowned surgeon, Jiang recognized that something was gravely amiss and felt a responsibility to reveal this catastrophic situation to the outside world – and the WHO in particular – in an attempt to halt the global spread of this enigmatic infectious disease. Jiang fearlessly accepted interviews with overseas media outlets to expose the reality of what was happening and the dire circumstances in China. It was at this point that the WHO and CDC realized the severity of the emerging unknown viral respiratory disease and its global implications. The WHO intervened, emphasizing the severity of this disease and sending a specialized team of medical experts in different disciplines to China. This allowed for collaboration with medical professionals and scientists nationwide to investigate the pathogen that caused the pandemic.

This research culminated in the identification of a new coronavirus: severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV; now known as SARS-CoV-1). With this discovery, a series of preventative and treatment guidelines were issued. This approach successfully curbed the transmission of the SARS virus and ultimately ended the pandemic. However, it came at a heavy cost: 8,000 people across 30 countries were infected with the SARS virus, resulting in 774 deaths – including many healthcare workers.

Jiang showed immense bravery by being the first to disclose the truth about the SARS outbreak in China, despite facing a suspension of his Chairmanship and general surgeon position. Time passed and I had the fortunate opportunity to call Jiang and express my personal admiration and respect for him. I greeted him with “Happy Chinese New Year, Dr. Jiang!” before introducing myself and explaining that, on such an important holiday, I thought it fitting to extend my sincerest wishes. I wanted him to know that someone from another country admired and respected him for his courageous actions, and I asked if he would mind chatting with me for a while, if he had the time. He happily obliged, and we continued to discuss our personal and career experiences.

I explained that I used to be a transplant surgeon in China and my mentor, Suisheng Xia, was widely recognized as the “Father of transplant surgery in China.” Jiang informed me that he knew my mentor very well and they shared a strong friendship as respected general surgeons in China. 

We continued our conversation, discussing the differences in training and education between surgery and pathology residency in China and the US. Jiang showed a keen interest in understanding the various aspects of education and training in clinical medicine and the comparison between the two countries. He asked me detailed questions about surgery training and practice, as well as the relationship between surgeons and pathologists in the US. I did my best to provide him with information and insights.

Before ending our conversation, I emphasized my respect for Jiang, and thanked him and his wife for taking time out of such an important holiday to speak with me. It was a pleasant and meaningful conversation and I wished Jiang and his wife good health and happiness for the Lunar New Year. 

Unfortunately, that was the first and last time I spoke with Yanyong Jiang. Although he has now passed away, his legacy and unwavering commitment to the medical profession will never be forgotten. His spirit will live on eternally.

Rest in peace, Dr. Yanyong Jiang.

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About the Author
Gang He

Consultant pathologist at Harlem Hospital—Columbia University/NYU-LI Long Island Community Hospital, New York, USA.

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