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UPDATED: March 7, 2013 NO. 10 MARCH 7, 2013
Inspirational Role Models
Winners of the annual Touching China Award recognized for their good deeds
By Wang Hairong

UNITED AS ONE: Zhou Yuehua, a disabled rural doctor in southwest China's Chongqing, rides piggyback on the shoulders of her husband Ai Qi on the way to a patient's home on December 18, 2012 (CHEN CHENG)

She carries the medical kit on her back, and her husband carries her on his. For 20 years, the couple has crossed over towering mountains and winding rivers, in sunshine or moonlight, to deliver medical services to people in the village.

It's just another day in the life of Zhou Yuehua, a 43-year-old rural doctor in Xihe Village, Beibei District in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, and her husband Ai Qi. National broadcaster CCTV granted Zhou and Ai the Touching China Award during a February 19 ceremony.

First launched 10 years ago, the award honors 10 individuals or groups each year who have deeply moved the Chinese people with tales of selfless perseverance.

A love story

The couple impress others for Zhou's medical service to local people, for her tenacity as a disabled person and for her husband's sustained support.

When Zhou was 8 months old, she was diagnosed with polio, which disabled her left leg.

As a child, Zhou was strong-willed and optimistic. She studied hard and helped her parents with housework after school. She cut the grass and fed it to pigs the family raised. She cooked, washed clothes and did everything that a healthy child could.

After finishing middle school, Zhou's father suggested she study medicine. In 1987, she enrolled in a medical school.

Two years later, when she had graduated and was looking for a job, she found her aspiration to become a doctor elusive. She was rejected numerous times because of her disability.

Then Zhou hit upon a win-win solution, which was to open her own clinic. She hoped that by doing so, she could make a living and serve villagers who previously had to travel nearly 5 km to the closest town to get medical attention.

With her 200 yuan ($32) savings and 600 yuan ($96) from her parents, Zhou opened her clinic in November 1990. Her younger brothers carried the medicine she purchased on their backs.

Zhou often travels along the mountain roads to visit her patients. On one such trip, Zhou caught the attention of Ai, now Zhou's husband.

"I saw her struggling to walk alone along the country road, with a big medical box slung from one shoulder and a crutch in hand. I thought she should have some company," Ai told CCTV.

After learning more about Zhou, Ai decided to be the person to accompany her. In 1995, the pair wed.

After their marriage, whenever Zhou visits patients, Ai "chauffeurs" her on his motorcycle when road conditions permit and on his back if the mountain roads become too rugged for motor vehicles.

Ai, an accountant in the village, also does most of the housework because Zhou is usually busy.

Zhou responds to patients' calls day or night, rain or shine. On a rainy night in 1998, Zhou was awoken at 3 a.m. by rapid knocks on the door. Zhou learned that villager Yang Guangzhou's daughter-in-law was about to give birth and urgently ask her to be the midwife.

The road, which zigzagged between a steep cliff and a deep valley, was especially tricky to navigate on rainy night. Ai carried Zhou on his back, with a flashlight in hand. At one point, Ai slipped and fell, dropping Zhou to the ground. If not for shrubs, the two would have plummeted into the valley. They walked for more than one hour, and arrived at Yang's home in time to deliver the baby.

Their selflessness has not come without cost. One evening when Zhou and her husband were sitting around the stove for supper, a villager named Yang Laoda rushed in, asking them to treat his father, who was ill and gasping for breath. Zhou and Ai dropped their bowls, and hurried to Yang's home, leaving their 4-year-old son sleeping at home alone.

When the couple returned home from the visit, they heard their son shrieking for his mother. They found that the boy's arm was severely scalded. After they left home, their son had waken up and wandered around to look for them. He accidentally knocked over a kettle filled with hot water, leaving him with a permanent scar.

Zhou's hometown is in an economically less developed area, and some villagers still live in poverty. For poor villagers requesting their service, the couple treat them first and allow them to pay later.

Because of humid weather in the mountains, many elderly in the area suffer from arthritis. Zhou often treats them with physical therapies such as acupuncture and massage. For people facing financial difficulties, they do not charge money for such services.

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