Lasers may ease pain of Vietnam War ‘napalm girl’

26 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Kim Phuc: Girl in Vietnam napalm photo receives medical treatment for burns 50 years later.

In the photograph that made Kim Phuc a living symbol of the Vietnam War, her burns aren’t visible — only her agony as she runs wailing toward the camera, her arms flung away from her body, naked because she has ripped off her burning clothes. More than 40 years later she can hide the scars beneath long sleeves, but a single tear down her otherwise radiant face betrays the pain she has endured since that errant napalm strike in 1972. “So many years I thought that I have no more scars, no more pain when I’m in heaven. Some forty years later, the 52-year-old is receiving medical treatment for the wounds she suffered after the South Vietnamese military accidentally dropped napalm on civilians in Trang Bang village near Saigon.

But now — heaven on earth for me!” Ms Phuc said upon her arrival in Miami to see a dermatologist who specialises in laser treatments for burn patients. Late last month, Ms Phuc, 52, began a series of laser treatments that her doctor, Jill Waibel of the Miami Dermatology and Laser Institute, says will smooth and soften the pale, thick scar tissue that ripples from her left hand up her arm, up her neck to her hairline and down almost all of her back. Accompanying her was her husband Bui Huy Toan and Nick Ut: the Associated Press photojournalist who captured the moment on 8 June, 1972, that changed Ms Phuc’s life, and won him the Pulitzer Prize. “I think I’m dying, too hot, too hot, I’m dying,” she cried as her skin peeled off her body. Ms Phuc suffered serious burns over a third of her body; at that time, most people who sustained such injuries over 10 per cent of their bodies died, Waibel says. And that is my choice.” “As a child, I loved to climb on the tree, like a monkey,” picking the best guavas, tossing them down to her friends, Phuc says. “After I got burned, I never climbed on the tree anymore and I never played the game like before with my friends.

I was really, really disabled.” Triggered by scarred nerve endings that misfire at random, her pain is especially acute when the seasons change in Canada, where Ms Phuc defected with her husband in the early 1990s. Ms Phuc says her Christian faith brought her physical and emotional peace “in the midst of hatred, bitterness, pain, loss, hopelessness,” when the pain seemed insurmountable. “No operation, no medication, no doctor can help to heal my heart. The only one is a miracle, (that) God love me,” she says. “I just wish one day I am free from pain.” Mr Ut thinks of Ms Phuc as a daughter, and he worried when, during their regular phone calls, she described her pain. When he travels now in Vietnam, he sees how the war lingers in hospitals there, in children born with defects attributed to Agent Orange and in others like Ms Phuc, who were caught in napalm strikes. At the first treatment in Waibel’s office, a scented candle lends a comforting air to the procedure room, and Phuc’s husband holds her hand in prayer.

Again and again, a red square appears on Phuc’s skin, the laser fires with a beep and a nurse aims a vacuum-like hose at the area to catch the vapor. The procedure creates microscopic holes in the skin, which allows topical, collagen-building medicines to be absorbed deep through the layers of tissue.

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