Sunday, April 13, 2008

Baby savaged by wild animal captures Vietnamese hearts - again

Baby savaged by wild animal captures Vietnamese hearts - again
Posted on 11 April 2008 (EST)
Vietnamese toddler Phung Thien Nhan, not yet two years old, is a born survivor whose horrific story and cheeky smile have touched hearts and drawn offers of support from across the nation.

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Vietnamese toddler Phung Thien Nhan's horrific story has touched the nation
© AFP Hoang Dinh Nam

HANOI (AFP) - Many people here remember reading about Nhan in newspapers back in 2006 after he was abandoned after birth by his teenage mother in a remote and poor central mountain area.

Dumped outside the family shack and left to die, hidden under papaya leaves and bamboo, the newborn was mauled by a wild animal, most likely a dog, that chewed off his right leg and badly savaged his groin.

Villagers found the boy, his pale and bloodied body crawling with ants.

By the time he was taken by motorcycle to the nearest hospital, 72 hours had passed and yet, miraculously, the child survived.

Hospital staff amputated his leg at the hip and stabilised his condition, and visiting Buddhist monks named him Thien Nhan or "good person".

After two months local authorities, inexplicably, sent him back to his family, into the care of his grandparents.

The case disappeared from the news. Many people presumed the boy had died.

But Tran Mai Anh, a 35-year-old Hanoi journalist, couldn't stop thinking about Nhan, tormented at night by visions of what had become of him.

Her worst fears would turn out to be true.

When, after months of research, she tracked him down in December in his family hut, he was badly neglected, dirty, anaemic and suffering diarrhea.

She took him to a medical centre and, a month ago, adopted him, together with her husband and fellow journalist Phung Quang Nghinh.

They took him back to Hanoi, where Nhan was treated for free at the French-Vietnamese hospital.

VietCot, a German-funded charity, hand-crafted a prosthetic leg, urgently needed to stop further damage to Nhan's body -- the first of many that he will need as he grows.

Vietnamese toddler Phung Thien Nhan's (right) horrific touched the nation
© AFP Hoang Dinh Nam

His adoptive parents have contacted international hospitals about the plastic surgery and hormone therapy Nhan will need to lead a normal life.

News quickly spread in the media, on Internet forums and in offices.

Many hundreds emailed and visited the family house in Hanoi's Old Quarter, bringing toys, baby clothes and their own children to play with Nhan.

"Many people came just to have a look because they couldn't believe he was alive," said Mai Anh. "Everyone is offering to help. I didn't know there are so many good people.

"One old woman from the countryside came and insisted on giving us the little money she could spare. She wanted to see Nhan before her eye operation, in case something happened and she couldn't see him afterwards."

Friends set up an online diary at and an account for donations to help cover the child's surgery and therapy bills, expected to run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

At first Nhan hid in corners, cried and only slept sitting up.

"He ate bananas and cold rice, that's all he knew," said Mai Anh. "He didn't know what toys were, they were meaningless to him. We put him in front of the TV, but it seemed like the television set was invisible to him."

After a month with his new family, Nhan was cheerfully greeting visitors this week, playing with toys, and swaying on his new leg to the tune of his new big brother Minh, 8, playing the piano.

"His emotions still change, but he's so much happier," said Mai Anh. "Now he eats everything," she added with mock exasperation. "He's getting fat!"


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