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​Thalassemia-stricken Vietnam woman rears others despite own struggle

Saturday, July 14, 2018, 19:00 GMT+7
​Thalassemia-stricken Vietnam woman rears others despite own struggle
Thoan ferrying clothing back to her laundry establishment. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Pham Thi Thoan’s 22 year battle with thalassemia, an inherited blood disorder, serves as the inspiration for her start-up.

Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder, whose patients, in serious cases, display trademark symptoms of jaundice, bone deformities, and delayed growth.

Pham Thi Thoan, 33, from the northern province of Nam Dinh, was diagnosed with the blood disease when she was just ten.

She has been battling against thalassemia ever since.

From a painful childhood

Because thalassemia is prevalent in Southeast Asia, the National Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion of Vietnam provides daily treatment for 150-170 cases.

Thoan shows up each day for treatment, and has been on the visitor’s list since the discovery of her blood disorder.

The prescription demands that the young patient receives a check-up every three months.

But since her household is destitute, and the institute is situated in Hanoi, she is forced to travel 180 km for a round trip. The distance means her parents can only afford one trip a year for their daughter.

Even so, the hurried take-in only occurred when the disease took a turn for the worse.

This went on until Thoan hit 14, when she decided to pay for the trip herself.

At the bottom of her heart, Thoan always wanted to relieve their parents from her bothersome sickness.

Little did she know, thalassemia was incurable.

“In 2010, my life was literally hanging on by a thread – I had to visit the hospital twice a month, have my spleen removed, and my weight his an all time low,” Thoan recalled.

“I wanted to find a job to help my parents out, but no one wanted a weak employee,” she shared.

Still Thoan pressed on.

By resorting to odd jobs, she managed to make a meager living during her prolonged stay in the capital.

But only when she was admitted to the clinic for an entire month due to a breakdown, an ingenious idea sparkled in her mind.

To compassionate startup owner

During her stay she witnessed lots of patients without clean clothes. That was when Thoan began operating a laundry service to cater to their needs.

She asked her parents for VND30 million (US$1,308) to get the idea off the ground.

Her parents agreed but had to put up their land for collateral to obtain the loan needed for the business.

The first days of business were difficult for Thoan, as she struggled to establish the rapport with the patients.

Eventually, she earned their trust.

After two years of working in the service industry, Thoan has secured a stable position, and managed to employ another worker, whose wife is also undergoing thalassemia treatment.

Thoan is seen returning the well-washed clothing to her patrons with a smile. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Thoan is seen returning the well-washed clothing to her patrons with a smile. Photo: Tuoi Tre

What strikes as peculiar is that Thoan pays her worker the same amount she obtains each month, a meager VND3 million (US$130.87).

She even provides room and board to three other patients in her humble establishment.

According to Tran Thai Duong, Thoan’s sole employee, she is literally a life saver.

“Ever since my wife got diagnosed with thalassemia, my household has been in despair,” Duong expressed.

“We had no way to cover the medical expense, until I met Thoan.”

“Thanks to her, I can now afford my wife’s medication,” Duong said.

But to Thoan, simply helping four other patients is not enough.

She is constantly worried, as there are lots of other austere patients in need of a helping hand.

Among the fold, there is one teenage boy whose parents just got divorced.

Depressed, he has run away from home, and has not been seen for five days.

“He would spend his time away at the cybercafés, and resort to begging when hunger arose,” Thoan shared.

“Before his disappearance, we had been persuading him to join our household, but to no avail.”

“That is by far my only regret,” Thoan remarked.

Getting wind of her selfless case, the National Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion of Vietnam staff donated a sugarcane juice stall to her as a means to elevate the situation.

Now that her business is blooming, Thoan has been able to put her monetary worries to a rare respite.

However, due to the insufficient facility, she is prompted to begin the day as early as 5:00 am, and only hits the sack after midnight.

But Thoan is proud of her achievements to date, which have helped her to find meaning in her 22 year struggle.

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Duy Khoi / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

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