Singapore doctors offer hope to abandoned Viet infant

Found with maggot-infested wounds, baby girl is brought to Mt Elizabeth for treatment

Singapore doctors offer hope to abandoned Viet infant

Venerable Minh Tai, with baby Trieu Hoai An in her arms, and her disciple Thien Ngo praying for blessings and fortune for the baby as they marked her "day thang", or full month in Vietnamese, yesterday

It was a special day for Trieu Hoai An, but the baby girl - abandoned with maggot-infested wounds and left for dead just one month ago - slept through it all.

A host of people - from her adopted mother Trieu Thi Thien Kim, who is the abbess of a temple in Vietnam's Lam Dong province, to the doctors and nurses of Mount Elizabeth Hospital as well as other patients - were celebrating Hoai An's day thang, or full month in Vietnamese, yesterday.

The abbess chanted Buddhist sutras with her disciple and prayed for blessings and fortune for the baby. The hospital's kitchens rolled out a spread of vegetarian Vietnamese food.

Watching the celebration, which was live-streamed on Facebook, were dozens of sponsors and well-wishers across Vietnam.

The story of Hoai An is a remarkable one.

On March 29, a farmer who heard a baby's cries found a sickly Hoai An in a plastic bag hanging from a tree. He took her to a hospital in Lam Dong's provincial capital, Da Lat City, about 300km north-east of Ho Chi Minh City.

Doctors there estimated that she had been abandoned for four or five days. The baby was sunburnt and had numerous insect bites. She also had a festering wound in her badly swollen head and squirming maggots were found in her eyes and nose.

The doctors said there was little they could do and gave her less than a year to live.

The 41-year-old abbess, who is also known by her religious name, Venerable Minh Tai, adopted the baby and named her Hoai An, which means perpetual peace in Vietnamese.

She managed to raise about $25,000 within days from people across Vietnam through the temple's charity networks and social media.

With the money, Venerable Minh Tai and her disciple Thien Ngo, a 24-year-old nun from Laos, were able to take Hoai An to Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Orchard Road for further treatment.

The funds were enough to cover Hoai An's first eight days of treatment, said Venerable Minh Tai.

"We have raised another $10,000 since then. Hopefully, we will be able to raise more money from donors in Vietnam and around the world in the next few weeks."

Hoai An was admitted on April 10 to Mount Elizabeth, where she was treated by neurosurgeon Tang Kok Kee, paediatric neurologist Phuah Huan Kee and anaesthetist Lynn Hong. She had a high fever and the tissue in her head wound had become necrotic, putting her at risk of infection.

Dr Tang said the swelling of her head was not life-threatening. He explained that the condition - known as hydrocephalus - is fairly common, especially in premature babies.

Before attempting to drain the excess fluid, Dr Tang decided to treat Hoai An's wounds to reduce the chance of infection. He recommended that the baby be fed human milk, provided by donors here, to boost her immune system.

In the two weeks since she was admitted, Hoai An has recovered remarkably quickly, Dr Tang said. He managed to drain some of the fluid from her head twice, resulting in improvements each time.

Said Venerable Minh Tai: "She is sleeping better, crying louder and has more of an appetite. She has also gained about 700g in weight and her reactions have improved."

Singapore doctors offer hope to abandoned Viet infant

She is sleeping better, crying louder and has more of an appetite. She has also gained about 700g in weight and her reactions have improved. VENERABLE MINH TAI, on the progress baby Hoai An (above) has made since being admitted to Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

Dr Tang added that Hoai An's wounds are also healing faster than expected. "I wouldn't write her off at this point; that would be wrong. There is a chance her condition will improve," he said.

But Hoai An is still not out of danger. Dr Tang said it is not yet possible to say for sure if she just has hydrocephalus or the rarer and more serious condition known as hydraencephaly, which is when parts of the brain's cerebral hemispheres are absent entirely.

Infants with this condition generally do not live past a year, he said.

A CT (computed tomography) scan done on Hoai An came back inconclusive with no visible brain tissue because of the amount of fluid in her head. Dr Tang said more fluid will need to be drained before a proper diagnosis can be made.

Venerable Minh Tai, who became a nun in 1991, said she hopes to take Hoai An back to Vietnam once she recovers and raise her with the other 10 orphan children being taken care of at her temple. She said she has raised about 100 children, most of whom went on to live with foster families. The first abandoned child she took in is now 17 years old.

"We won't give up on Hoai An. With the support of the donors, I have faith that her illness can be cured," she said.

VNF ( The Strait Times )

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