Geelong couple offer hope to burns victim

After meeting a woman from Vietnam's central highlands who was crippled by self-inflicted burns to 60 per cent of her body, a Geelong Catholic couple arranged for her to be brought to Australia for a series of operations at the St John of God Hospital.

Vietnamese housewife, Hong Hanh Thi Luong, suffered her horrific burns in 2004 when, in the darkness of depression, she acted against an abusive husband by using petrol to set clothes, and herself, alight, the Geelong Advertiser reports.

Her hospital treatment in the city of Pleiku was rudimentary. Her body healed in the shape of one curled in pain on a bed. Her mother tried to care for her at home, with the help of her young son Nhut, but was unable to treat the infection which festered in the Vietnamese climate.

Hong Hanh's world now became a single bed under a mosquito net in a small, bare room.

A Catholic nun, Sr Tuyet, became one of her few visitors.

But Sr Tuyet had a sister of her own living in Australia, Mrs Hanh Tran, who was visiting Vietnam with her husband, Nhuong Tran.

Sr Tuyet, whose convent operates as an orphanage and a place of care for people with leprosy, introduced Hong Hanh to Mrs Tran, who was deeply shocked by what she discovered.

She and her husband sat up talking all of that night. They could not sleep having witnessed such pain. They talked and talked and the best that they could do was resolve to help.

"The tears kept running down our face, the poor lady," Mrs Tran said.

"We heard the story from her and we could not sleep for the whole night, so we talked about it and we decided we had to do as much as we can."

Resolving to act, the Trans bought salves and 100 pairs of surgical gloves for the nuns to use in assisting Hong Hanh.

On their return to Australia, they began the desperate search to find help.

With the assistance of nephew, Dr Cuong Tran, in Melbourne, the Trans referred the case to Dr Theong Low of the Australian Chinese Medical Association who called on Geelong plastic surgeon Ian Holten.

The result was that Hong Hanh was brought to Australia for 30 operations at Geelong's St John of God Hospital involving more than 100 hours of surgery.

Her left arm remains fused to her side, and her left hand remains unworkable. She has perhaps 10 more operations to weather and precious little skin left for Mr Holten to graft, but the mission will continue during the next eight months.

It will continue on the wings of the generosity of the Australian Chinese Medical Association, the St John of God Foundation, the surgical teams which have given time for the operations and the Vietnamese families which have cared for Hong Hanh in Australia.

A gift from the heart (Geelong Advertiser, 28/5/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
St John of God Health Care
St John of God Hospital, Geelong

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