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Our Vietnamese surgeon Dr. Ai

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Some 2,500 children with cleft lip and palate are born in Vietnam each year. Our Vietnamese surgeon Dr. Ai has great expertise in treating them as one of our longstanding partners in Vietnam. This and his commitment to helping the minorities in the country make him so valuable for our work. Dr. Ai comes from a simple farming family. As the oldest son, he had the privilege of being able to study. Since then he has worked tirelessly and with great commitment to minorities and the poor population in his homeland. Thousands of cleft children have already benefited from his skills.

One of them is little Phang, who lives in one of the poorest regions of Vietnam with his family. The small mountain village is cut off from all modern civilization. The inhabitants belong to one of the numerous ethnic minorities in Vietnam. They speak their own language, live in their own world and culture. Minorities have a hard time in Vietnam. The family of eight lives in a simple wooden house: Phang, his older brother, his parents, grandparents and two uncles. There is no electricity, no running water. Phang’s father farms two rice fields, keeps pigs, chickens and goats. His mother takes care of the household of the extended family.

Phang is the youngest, and cause for much worry. The little one has a large double cleft and an open palate. This means that he will never learn to speak properly and will be dependent on the protection and help of his parents all his life! His mother never lets him out of her sight. Whatever she does, she has Phang with her.

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Dr. Ai examines little Phang
Phang before surgery
The mother always has Phang with her, on her back…
… or in her lap.
Phang with his proud parents after the surgery.
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A provincial doctor contacts Dr. Ai. When he hears about Phang, it was immediately clear to him that he had to help the boy and his family. Shortly afterwards, the surgeon makes his way to the family. Despite the language barrier – only Phang’s father speaks some Kinh, the official national language of Vietnam – he can convince the parents to consent to the operation. Phang is 17 months old when Dr. Ai performs the first surgery on him in Hanoi in January 2019. The result is impressive. Eight months later, Phang’s parents make another long trip to the city to enable their son to have palate surgery. A great vote of confidence for Dr. Ai.

The people of Vietnam still suffer from the long-term consequences of the war over 40 years later. Still, an above-average number of children with severe malformations and disabilities are born. One of the reasons for this is the use of Agent Orange, a defoliant containing dioxins, during the Vietnam War. The birth rate of children with cleft lip and palate is estimated to be three times higher in Vietnam than in Germany. There are hardly any treatment options for cleft children in Vietnam. In addition, very few parents can afford the intervention. Many patients have to suffer from their malformation and the resulting functional, aesthetic and emotional problems throughout their lives.

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From our projects
The story of Maui, cleft child from Colombia
Our new project to help children with cleft lip and palate in Colombia begins with a very unusual case. Maui was born with a cleft lip and palate. His parents belong to an indigenous people and do not know how to get him the help he needs. By a happy coincidence, Julia, a Swiss woman living in Colombia, is a neighbor of the family and offers to help. In search of treatment options, she comes across Deutsche Cleft Kinderhilfe.
Video: Impressions from Bolivia
The parents of our cleft children are always full of gratitude. When their child is born with cleft, they often do not know what to make of the malformation, much less that it can be treated. And even if they do - most of our little patients come from the poorest of backgrounds. Their parents could never afford the operation. It is an unimaginable happiness for them to learn that their children can receive qualified treatment, and free of charge even. This wonderful, touching film from our Bolivian aid project captures these special moments of happiness.
Video: Impressions from Pakistan
This film, made for our Pakistani partner organization, the Al-Mustafa Welfare Societey, by the father of one of our patients, shows scenes from our work in Karachi. From here, our senior surgeon Prof. Ashraf Ganatra treats cleft children from poorest families. He operates the children from Karachi at the Al Mustafa Medical Center. In order to reach the many needy families living outside the city, he also regularly heads out to local provincial hospitals to treat cleft patients there.