Born with leukemia, 7th grader Dinh Khoi Nguyen from Bu Gia Map District, Binh Phuoc Province, about 180km from Ho Chi Minh City, manages to simultaneously fight his disease and succeed at school.
Your correspondent met with Nguyen at his family’s house in Bu Gia Map Ward in the namesake district after his morning school shift.
A quick glance at the boy gave away his intellect, unsurprising given that the name Khoi Nguyen translates to ‘intelligence’ in English.
It was lunchtime for the family and after the meal Nguyen would have to return to school for the afternoon session.
His father, Dinh Duc Tuan, says his son’s leukemia treatment requires blood transfusions every three weeks.
“We used to travel all the way to Ho Chi Minh City for the transfusions. Each treatment session cost VND4 million [US$190],” his father said.
“Since last year the treatment has become available in Dong Xoai Ward, much closer to home. The cost has also been reduced by half.”
For a few weeks after each blood transfusion, Nguyen feels healthy and energetic, but as the end of the month draws near he begins to suffer from fatigue, lose his appetite, and go pale.
Then, it is time for the next transfusion.
“He’s a 7th grader but weighs only 21kg. He’s the smallest kid in school,” his father shared.
Bearing in mind the severity of the disease, the schoolboy occasionally lapses in and out of consciousness during class hours. At times of utmost exhaustion, he will ask his father in frustration, “Can I just skip class today?”
Despite the hurdles, Nguyen remains resilient in the face of adversity.
He feels worse when his classmates are not around and dreads lagging behind in school.
Trips for renewed blood
Nguyen currently receives regular blood transfusions. Every three weeks, the boy and his father leave home before dawn to drive 90km by scooter from Bu Gia Map Ward to Dong Xoai Ward, both in Binh Phuoc Province.
The whole trip, including the treatment, takes about two days.
After returning home, Nguyen immediately rushes to his friends for missed school work: he borrows their notebooks and copies missed lessons. With such endeavors, the leukemia-stricken student has managed to earn the distinction of high achievers for years.
Nguyen’s father, a former commune police officer, quit his job to make time for his son’s treatment.
Now, he and his wife both work as manual laborers, doing their best to earn enough to cover their child’s medical expenses.
Whenever payday comes, the wages are set aside to pay for blood transfusions, though oftentimes the family is forced to borrow from others.
Still, they manage to get by on their low income. They own a fruit garden which, despite constant crop failures, provides them with additional support.
Aware of their hardships and more importantly, Nguyen’s relentless efforts, Bu Gia Map’s border defense soldiers offered to support the boy with VND500,000 ($25) each month.
Having battled leukemia for years, Nguyen understands true pain, and has therefore set his sights on becoming a doctor. If his dream comes true, he will be able to help others avoid the hurt he has suffered.
His parents, on the other hand, simply pray for his good health. They plan to continue pushing past each roadblock to give their son the best medical treatment they can.