A woman in northern Vietnam’s Bac Ninh Province has devoted 25 years to providing care and treatment to leprosy patients as if they were her own flesh and blood.
At one end of the Bac Ninh Leprosy and Dermatology Hospital, formerly Qua Cam (Brave) Leprosy Clinic, in the province’s Yen Phong District, are two rooms that make up the Leprosy Department.
The smaller of the two rooms belongs to Nguyen Thi Xuan, a 57 year-old nurse, who has devoted her life to caring for lepers.
The bigger room is her study, which is stacked with prosthetic limbs and slippers made to fit the patients’ deformed feet.
In 1986, while Xuan was a young kindergarten teacher, she read a book on the miserable lives of lepers.
Without her family’s knowledge, she then visited the leprosy patients at Qua Cam Leprosy Clinic in Bac Ninh Province.
Her heart ached as she witnessed the physical pain, mental agony and social stigmas which the patients endured.
Xuan burst into tears at an elderly patient’s unfulfilled deathbed wish of seeing his children and grandchildren one last time.
Set on becoming close with the patients and providing them with solace, she visited them every day without her family’s permission.
Her decision to quit teaching and move to the leprosy clinic was met with strong objections, and even scorn, from her relatives, friends and neighbors.
After two years of volunteer work at the clinic, she was sent to a nursing class, which provided her with professional caretaking skills.
A petition signed unanimously by all the patients there was submitted to the clinic’s directorial board and the district’s health department, requesting that Xuan be admitted as an official nurse at the clinic.
Apart from an average nurse’s caretaking tasks, she also cooks and does laundry for her patients, whom she considers her kin.
It pained her to see the elderly patients, whose limbs were amputated, moving around on their arms and sustaining bruises and cuts when they fell.
Xuan then asked to be sent to a course on producing prosthetic limbs offered by a leprosy clinic in Ho Chi Minh City.
With the knowledge gained from the course, as well as some self-taught skills, the golden-hearted woman has since produced a large number of artificial limbs, which help her patients move around and hold objects with more ease.
She also travelled to leprosy clinics in other northern provinces, successfully matchmaking several couples.
As for herself, she decided to stay single to devote all her time and energy to caring for her patients.
After 28 years of devotion and sacrifice, her rewards are the patients’ deep affection and gratitude, as well as several medals bestowed by the government in recognition of her contributions.
When she reached retirement age in 2012, she insisted that she stay at the clinic and continue her job of tending to her beloved patients.