By Grace Mishler, assisted by Nguyen Tram
Nam is one of the amazing blind students at Thien An Blind School. He is easy going and optimistic. He was awarded as an excellent student in the first semester of this school year. Every day, he goes to school together with other students and he is a group leader.
Nam was referred to me by the headmaster of Thien An Blind School to have an eye examination with Dr. Pham, a well known, Vietnamese American ophthalmologist. Both of his eyes are often swollen and in pain. His diagnosis is corneal dystrophy. Dr. Pham concurred with the course of treatment and asked that we take Nam to Dr. Thang, a cornea specialist at Ho Chi Minh City Eye Hospital.
On Dec. 29, 2014, Nam met with Dr. Thang and he began the paperwork for Nam's cornea transplantation. Dr. Thang asked me and Nam's caregiver to take him to the Eye Hospital for a physical examination and blood test. Nam's evaluation was approved that he is a good candidate for a cornea transplant and the prognosis is positive.
Nam has passed all of the tests required for the transplant. Dr. Thang expects to receive a cornea implant from the US in three months. Nam was told the transplantation will occur in three months. The total cost is $1,700 for one eye. This includes surgery, cornea implant, and five days in the hospital to prevent possible infection.
Mount Wilson Church of the Brethren in Pennsylvania, where Joan and Erv Huston are members, surprised me recently by raising some funds. Vietnam is dear to the Hustons' hearts. They re-visited Vietnam for their 40th anniversary serving in Vietnam with Brethren Volunteer Service before 1975. Joan and Erv recently mobilized their Summer Bible School to support the Vietnam Student Eye Care Project. To personalize needs of blind, they had the children meet a blind woman who uses a cane. Students became enthusiastic and raised $1,713.25 for the project.
This was a great joy because they raised three times more than expected, and they heard for the first time the real life story of a blind person who uses a cane, living right in their own community.
How the Mount Wilson Bible school funds are being used: seven more children with eye pain went to the American Eye Center--one child had been affected by Agent Orange; in consultation with Mount Wilson's pastor and Joan Huston, the church wants $1,000 to go for Nam's cornea transplant.
Just last night, I also met Peter, a Vietnam veteran, and his wife Vi at a mutual friend's birthday party in Ho Chi Minh City. They live in Montana but come regularly to Vietnam. He is a retired airline pilot and also has been affected by Agent Orange. He wanted to know more about my work here, and I share the story of how a Summer Bible School in Pennsylvania helped to raise funds for Nam to receive one cornea transplant, but we are short $700 dollars. He pulled out a $100 bill and said, "Nope Grace, now you only need $600." At first, I did not understand what he was conveying--he realized I am blind, so he placed his $100 dollar bill on my palm, saying, "Grace, your compassionate heart compelled me to give."
A brief life story about Nam's frustration in coping with blindness:
-- At age 10, he became blind. This was an embarrassment for him.
-- He could not keep up with his peers and school work.
-- Finally, at age 12, Nam dropped out of Dak Lak Public School.
-- He stayed home and isolated himself from the world.
-- His parents searched for help and discovered Thien An Blind School in Ho Chi Minh City.
-- He now lives full time at this school and is in the 8th grade as a 21-year-old.
-- Nam is adapting to his new environment. You may read more about the school where Nam lives at www.brethren.org/news/2012/feature-from-vietnam.html .
-- We discovered that Nam has been on a waiting list for three years for the cornea transplant at Ho Chi Minh City Eye Hospital.
-- Grace Mishler is a program volunteer working in Vietnam through the Church of the Brethren Global Mission and Service. She is on the faculty of National Vietnam University of Social Sciences and Humanities as a Social Work Project Developer. Her assistant, translator, and interpreter Nguyen Tram assisted with taking photos and writing this report. For more about the disabilities ministry in Vietnam see www.brethren.org/partners/vietnam .