Saturday, April 10, 2010

Risky surgery for Cambodian toddler 'is a go'

By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer

LONG BEACH - On the heels of a sudden outpouring of support, it looks as if a Cambodian girl will have a chance at risky, but potentially life-extending surgery after all.

A week after the founder of a local nonprofit worried that his fledgling group would not be able to raise the money needed to complete its mission of providing open-heart surgery for 3-year-old Socheat Nha, the group's fortunes have turned.

Now hotel and plane reservations have been made to travel from Long Beach to the Dominican Republic, where the operation will take place around April 18, a payment has been made to the hospital and Peter Chhun is finally able to exhale.

It has been a tumultuous path, but with several recent donations and a promise by Congresswoman Laura Richardson's office to assist Hearts Without Boundaries, in the words of Chhun "it's a go."

Richardson met Chhun and Socheat and her family at a recent event in Long Beach and pledged her support. Her office has contacted the State Department to provide flexibility in Socheat's travel visa, is looking into providing some sort of financial support, and has assigned staff to stay in contact with Chhun and the family.

Richardson also said she would help raise "awareness of these situations, so that families of low means can be helped in the future."

Socheat is the daughter of an impoverished rice farmer from a village near the Vietnamese border.

She is the third Cambodian child Hearts Without Boundaries has brought to the U.S. for open heart surgery to repair a congenital defect.

However, Socheat's condition turned out to be more complicated than those of the first two patients.

After doctors at a Las Vegas hospital canceled surgery because it was too risky, renowned thoracic surgeon Dr. William Novick of the International Children's Heart Foundation agreed to take on the case.

Novick conducts medical missions to Third World countries and is in the Dominican Republic this month, where he said he could perform Socheat's surgery.

Although Novick donates his services, Hearts Without Boundaries had to come up with money for the hospital and travel expenses. It was money that had not been budgeted, and Chhun said he lacked the funds.

Since then, however, several donors have stepped up to help out.

For example, at the Cambodian New Year parade Sunday, Chhun told Socheat's story and parade-goers spontaneously began making offers. Within a half hour, Chhun, Socheat and family members had received $793 from well-wishers.

"All I can do is thank the donors who want to help this child," Chhun said. "Even though it's hard times (economically) people opened up."

Information on Hearts without Boundaries and on how to contribute to the fund can be found online at,


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