TAIPEI (CNA) — A Norwegian missionary doctor who established Taiwan’s first nursing home for children suffering from polio in Pingtung County, southern Taiwan in 1961, has passed away in Norway at the age of 93, according to the Taiwan-based Bjørgaas Foundation.
“Doctor Olav Bjørgaas, who devoted his life to Taiwan, rested in peace in God’s arms on Nov. 15. He was 93 years old,” said the foundation in a statement released Tuesday.
A memorial ceremony will be held at Pingtung Christian Hospital Dec. 13 under the auspices of the hospital and the Pingtung Christian Victory Home, both of which were founded by Bjørgaas in the 1950s and 1960s, the statement said.
According to the foundation, Bjørgaas was dispatched to Taiwan by Norway’s Mission Alliance in 1954, when he was 28 years old and arrived with his newly wed wife. His first mission was caring for leprosy patients at the Losheng Sanatorium in New Taipei.
He later founded the Pingtung Christian Hospital and the Pingtung Christian Victory Home, Taiwan’s first nursing home for children suffering from polio and other mental or physical challenges.
Until his retirement and departure from Taiwan to his homeland in 1984, Bjørgaas was devoted to wiping out leprosy, tuberculosis and polio on the island, the foundation said.
Nicknamed “Papa Bi” by his patients and associates, Bjørgaas’s most memorable deeds included once sucking thick sputum out of a leper’s throat with his mouth, donating his own blood whenever the blood bank ran out of stock, and signing the words “Bill O. Bjørgaas” on the bills of patients unable to pay due to poverty.
When Taiwan was under the threat of massive polio outbreaks in the 1960s, Bjørgaas imported vaccine from the United States to give free inoculations to 4,000 children in Pingtung, the first such large-scale vaccination program in Taiwan, the foundation said.
In 1963, he founded the Victory Home to shelter children suffering from polio, offering them care and rehabilitation and even making crutches to allow his young patients a degree of mobility.
In 1975, the missionary doctor invited American surgeons to fly to Pingtung to instruct Taiwanese physicians in how to perform spine-straightening operations, the foundation said.
Thanks to Bjørgaas’ efforts, many polio patients were able to stand again and Pingtung Christian Hospital became one of the world’s eight major spine-correcting centers at that time, it noted.
After leaving Taiwan upon retirement, he once said that Taiwan no longer needed him because it had gained enough experience to be able to take care of itself, although he professed a desire to return to the place he called his second home, according to the foundation.
Bjørgaas, who was an honorary citizen of Pingtung County, was conferred with the Medical Contribution Award by the Taiwan government in 1997, and in 2008 was awarded the Medal of St. Olav, presented by the King of Norway, for his missionary and medical contributions.
He was the recipient of Taiwan’s Friend of Foreign Service Medal in 2010 , and honored with the Fervent Global Love of Lives Medal in 2014 by the non-profit Chou Ta-Kuan Cultural and Educational Foundation in recognition of his contributions to Taiwan.