NANNING, Guangxi - When doctor Li Qianfeng moved to an impoverished village, his hope was to help save lives.
Instead, it was the villagers who ended up saving his.
Li Qianfeng, a doctor in Dalang village of the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, performs a medical examination on a patient in this photo taken on Dec 1. [Li Jinfeng / for China Daily]
"I came here to save people's lives, " Li said in the village of Dalang, one of the most impoverished places in South China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. "Before I came here, people had to scale several mountains to seek medical advice. They need my help."
The village of Dalang, accessible only by a small path leading up into the mountains, is home to more than 2,300 residents. The closest hospital is six kilometers away in the town of Liujing, where Li was born and grew up.
Seven years ago, Li moved to the village to provide whatever medical services were necessary, from dressing bruises to bringing down high blood pressure.
Li, 31, was born into a medical family. He established his own clinic in Liujing right after graduating from a health school in Nanning in 1998.
However, while business at the clinic was improving, in 2003 he unexpectedly decided to move into the remote mountains of Dalang village.
"Once a villager from Dalang told me that people had to walk for around three hours for even the most essential medical treatment," Li said. "When I learned there were people dying of cold due to the lack of medical resources, I felt obliged to do something."
Since then, Li has been traveling back and forth between the tile-roofed clinic and drug stores in town, and between his home and the homes of patients.
However, in May 2008, Li's happy practice nearly came to an end when he was diagnosed with uremia, a potentially deadly disease that can lead to kidney failure.
Having no way to afford 200,000 yuan ($30,000) for a kidney transplant, Li closed the clinic, wrote his last words, and stayed at home waiting for the end of his life.
The closure of the clinic spread like wildfire.
Many villagers brought Li vegetables, rice and fish. Some wrote a letter to the local government to help their only village doctor, who had somehow become "a son of the village", as one aged woman in the village put it.
Li's story soon reached the media. A few months later, a charity in Hong Kong put up 900,000 yuan for Li's kidney transplant, which was performed successfully on Dec 23, 2008, and medication to sustain his health.
Li returned to the village soon after the surgery.
"I'm recovering fine," he said. "I owe too much to the villagers. It's my happiest moment whenever I cure a disease for any of them."
Every day at around 7 am, Li opens his clinic. Sometimes he receives three or four patients a day, sometimes none.
Most adult men have left the village to work in the cities, so the majority of the population is made up of children, women and the aged.
At noon one day in November, Li received a phone call from a pregnant woman, who was about to give birth on the hillside. He jumped on his motorbike and drove straight there.
"It was an emergency. The woman's water had broken and her blood pressure was too high," he recalled.
"I told her to take deep breaths and gave her some pills to stabilize her blood pressure to help her calm down," Li said.
Li put the woman on his motorbike and sent her to town hospital immediately. The woman gave birth upon their arrival at the hospital.
"The woman had hypertension. Without timely help, both she and the baby would have been in danger," he said.
Over the past two weeks, Li kept visiting 68-year-old Lu Pan to change dressings on a leg wound until Lu could walk all the way to the clinic.
Li used to make 800 yuan a month at his clinic in town, but now his income is 560 yuan a month.
Nevertheless, Li has been covering expenses for villagers who are too poor to pay the bill. Whenever a patient cannot pay for medicine, Li keeps the bill on record and hands out the drug without a second thought. He has never asked for repayment.
"I'm happy staying with the villagers," Li said. "Although I make less money, I have never regretted moving here."