Former University of Pittsburgh Women’s Basketball Coach Agnus Berenato traveled with Surgicorps International to Vietnam in 2015 where she met our patient, Le Thi Thanh, featured in this story. As a non-medical volunteer, Agnus interviewed Thanh and captured the details of her 2 year struggle after a kitchen fire burned her face and neck. Surgicorps returns to Vietnam this fall and, with your continued support, anticipates a follow up visit with Thanh.
In Thanh’s words…
One of my favorite things to do is cook. I was in the kitchen preparing dinner for my husband and two children. A long day of work at our coffee shop made us hungry for the meal and family time we were about to share. I was stirring a pot of soup and an explosion took place. I did not hear anything or notice anything remiss with my gas stove. It just exploded.
My husband, close by, wrapped his arms around me, flames on my chest, arms and hands, fire covering my neck shooting upward of my face. He was strong. I felt his love. He picked me up and doused me in the oak bucket of water in the kitchen.
911 was called…I lay in the HCMC Burn Hospital with only pain and fear…I thought I would die. We had no money to pay for treatment or surgery. My only thoughts were of
Two years later, HOPE arrived. Someone sent a picture of my scarred face to a health organization that aids people with no money but big scars. I am the “Lady with No Mouth”. I have dreams of being helped, having surgery, having a mouth again, releasing my neck of burned scar tissue. I dream of food. I dream of smiling. I dream of having grandkids that are not afraid of me. I dream of courage, I used to have that! I dream of not wearing a mask every day, every place. I dream of retirement with my brave husband. I dream of eating any kind of food. I dream of my inner beauty shining through my scars. The health organization came to town.
They would see me. They did not need money. They would not be afraid. They gave me HOPE.
I waited in line to be evaluated. I was so nervous. I had no fear, no pain (because my neck and face were one, as my skin and tissues formed a mass of scarring). I prayed, “Oh my Buddha, please let this group see me fit for surgery. ” Again, it crept back…
When I met with Dr Jack and his Surgicorps team, my fear and sadness disappeared. I could not understand what they were saying, but I felt
Maybe, just maybe, I would get a mouth. That’s all I wanted, a mouth to eat with! Dr Jack said “YES” and I prayed to Buddha again, “Please let me have courage and trust”.
I had my surgery. I had pain, but no fear. I never thought I would die. I can eat all kinds of food. I smile. I have courage. I can laugh. I can shake my head. I am so thankful.
Surgicorps did for me what I could not have done on my own. I had no money, no insurance. I had NO hope. Surgicorps operated on me, gave me a mouth, released my neck, did skin grafts, gave me TLC , hugged me, wiped my tears away.
My constant sadness was replaced by HOPE, a future, a smile, a nod, a dream come true.
I am so thankful and appreciative to the team at Surgicorps. I am so thankful for my friend sending a picture of “The Lady with No Mouth” to Thanh and Linda. I am so thankful that Dr Jack said “YES”. I am so thankful I am no longer “The Lady with No Mouth!”