updated 10/8/2007 11:18:58 AM ET 2007-10-08T15:18:58

An ethnic Chinese Malaysian girl who had two heart transplants has helped break cultural taboos over organ donation after one of the hearts came from a Muslim boy who died in a road crash, officials said Monday.

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Tee Hui Yi, 14, who suffered heart failure after a viral infection, spent more than a year awaiting a donor in this Muslim-majority nation before she underwent double surgeries last week.

Her body rejected the first heart belonging to a 15-year-old Malay Muslim, but the second transplant, which used the heart of a 20-year-old ethnic Chinese man, proved successful.

National attention over Tee's case has inspired a rise in organ pledges in recent days, said Lela Yasmin Mansor, chief coordinator of the government's National Transplant Resource Center.

"We hope the momentum will be sustained," Lela told The Associated Press.

Some 110,000 people have pledged their organs in this country of 27 million people, but actual organ donations remain few, partly due to long-standing religious concerns, Lela said.

"It has been something of a cultural taboo," Lela said. "Despite assurances from the religious authorities, there have still been fears and misconceptions about how the body is handled after death in organ donation cases."

Kidney donations are the most pressing need, she said. Over 9,000 Malaysians would benefit from kidney transplants, but less than 100 such operations are performed in the country each year.

Tee's plight prompted Malaysia's influential Department of Islamic Development to issue a statement last week stressing that "in Islam, donating one's organs is considered a noble act."

Some 60 percent of Malaysia's population are ethnic Malay Muslims. Ethnic Chinese and Indians, who are mainly Buddhists, Christians or Hindus, form the largest minority communities.

Malaysia has enjoyed multiracial peace for decades despite growing concerns among minorities that the government is neglecting their religious and economic rights, such as by resisting calls to roll back affirmative action policies for Malays.

Ong Ka Ting, president of the Malaysian Chinese Association, a leading political party, said Monday that Tee's case showed how Malaysians would "instinctively, and without any prejudice, reach out to help one another."

"This is the real Malaysia, where every act transcends race and religion and reaffirms the fact that all human beings are the same," Ong said in a statement.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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