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Meet the Vietnamese couple whose boarding house is saving needy kidney patients

Saturday, March 20, 2021, 08:51 GMT+7
Meet the Vietnamese couple whose boarding house is saving needy kidney patients
Nguyen Thi Kim Hong (right), residing in Binh Minh Town, Vinh Long Province, Vietnam checks on the conditions of the renal patients staying at her home. Photo: Chi Cong / Tuoi Tre

Tran Van Hien and Nguyen Thi Kim Hong, a couple from Vinh Long Province in the Mekong Delta, have spent several years providing shelter and covering medical bills for chronic kidney disease patients undergoing dialysis.

Hien, 47, and Hong, 43, used their life savings to build a home where they offer free care to underprivileged kidney disease patients and their caretaking relatives from around all over Vinh Long Province.

As part of their mission, the couple offers free meals to their guests, many of whom depend on the friendship, family, and solace of living together for strength in battling their physical pain and financial hardships.

Reaching out

Hien and Hong’s 200-square-meter prefabricated house sits just one kilometer from Can Tho General Hospital in Can Tho City, giving their guests an easy access to the life-saving renal dialysis they depend on.

Dialysis is the process of artificially removing waste and excess water from blood in people with failing kidneys.

A dialysis session in Vietnam costs between VND150,000 (US$6.5) and VND1 million ($43) and must be done about three times per week. Given that Hien and Hong’s guests are all from extremely low-income families, the bills add up quick.

To make ends meet, Hien spends his day operating a crane while Hong runs a grocery store out of their home. 

Each morning, Hong heads to the local market to pick up food for the patients at her home.

Of course, with 40 beds at her home, there is a lot of food shopping to do. Fortunately, the food traders, many of whom were surprised when she first began picking up such large quantities, are sympathetic with the couple and do their best to help out.

“They’ve been lending us a hand ever since they found out what we’ve been up to,” Hong shared.

Apart from kidney patients, Hien and Hong also welcome homeless people into their house, hoping their kind deeds will help improve their community and the world.

A home for the needy

The idea of building a boarding house for kidney patients first came to Hien during a visit to Can Tho General Hospital.

During the visit, Hien was struck by the sight of a kidney patient painfully resting in one of the hospital’s corridors.

Aware that many of the patients in local hospitals are unable to find a place where they can sleep uninterrupted and without feeling the subconscious need to check on their belongings, Hien and his wife decided to build a space where they can get a good night sleep.

Renal patients share food at a home built by Nguyen Thi Kim Hong and her husband in Binh Minh Town, Vinh Long Province, Vietnam. Photo: Thanh Nhon / Tuoi Tre
Renal patients share food at a home built by Nguyen Thi Kim Hong and her husband in Binh Minh Town, Vinh Long Province, Vietnam. Photo: Thanh Nhon / Tuoi Tre

“We provide them with free accommodation and meals. We also check on them whenever we have a free moment,” Hien shared.

As words of their free boarding house spread throughout the province, kidney patients began showing up in greater numbers.     

“We’re now no different than a family. We all enjoy talking and sharing about what is going on in our lives,” Hien explained.  

Hien’s sentiment is shared by those who depend on his boarding house.

“We’re just like a family. Hien and his wife provide us with a proper place to stay and meals. They also cover our dialysis bills,” said Pham Van Vang, an 83-year-old who has been on dialysis for the past 12 years.

“Sometimes they even give us money. I’m not sure how I’ll ever repay them for their kindness.”

Vang is one of the 20 patients on renal dialysis currently staying in Hien’s home, and the community he and the other patients have built has been a major pillar in their struggle for survival.

70-year-old Nguyen Thi Be, Vang’s wife, is equally thankful for the support Hien and Hong have given her husband. With dialysis needing to be done every two days, coupled with several surgeries over the years, the couple had been forced to sell their paddy field in Mang Thit District, Vinh Long Province, to cover hospital bills.

Be had been bringing in a meager income of VND50,000 ($2.1) a day by washing dishes, but her poor eyesight eventually put her out of work. The couple’s children are also quite poor and unable to provide support.

“We don’t know how we would have made it this far without support from Hien, his wife, and other philanthropists,” Be shared.

Be’s gratitude to the philanthropic couple is echoed by Pham Van Hoa.

For the past six years, this young man, has been undergoing dialysis at Can Tho General Hospital three times per week, with each session lasting between three and a half and four hours.

“I hold dear every moment I’m still alive,” Hoa shared.

According to Hoa, the emotional connections he’s built with the other guests and Hong and Hien’s home has been his saving grace. One of those connections is with Nguyen Thi Kieu Bay, a 50-year-old woman from the Province’s Tra On District who moved into the home six months ago.

With no relatives to care for her, Bay had nowhere else to turn other than Hien and Hong.

“There are times my energy is completely drained, but I refused to give up. I’m so blessed to be here and to be cared for by Hien and Hong that I have to keep going,” Bay said.

Such thankfulness is the only reimbursement Hien and Hong need for their good deeds.

“We don’t pay attention to gossip about us. All we really care about is that the patients are happy,” Hong adding how thankful they themselves are for the love and support they receive from their community.

A man of mission

In addition to running the nursing home, Tran Van Hien is also an active member of the rescue squad on the Hau (Back) River.

He has been involved in a number of situations related to covering the transport and funeral fees for the deceased victims.

Hien also takes great pride in holding funerals for the renal patients who pass away without a family to take care of their burial rites.

“They’re not my own flesh and blood, but my heart aches every time a person breathes their last breath with no relatives by their side,” Hien shared. “I’ll continue to do this for as long as possible.”

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Ngoc Hanh - Thanh Nhon / Tuoi Tre News


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