In Vietnam, judge assaulted with acid makes comeback

After nine years spent overcoming mental and physical pain, Nguyen Thi Kim Loan is making her return to the Supreme People’s Court of Vietnam

Nguyen Thi Kim Loan is seen in this Tuoi Tre photo.

A Hanoi-based judge who suffered an acid attack thirteen years ago has surpassed colossal hurdles to return to her passion.

Loan, born in 1965 in the northern province of Thai Binh, graduated from Hanoi Law School in 1988 before entering the workforce as a secretary at the People’s Court of Dong Da District, Hanoi.

She was instated as a judge in the district in 1991, and spent 15 years promoting justice until a vile attack in 2005 left her physically and mentally scared. 

Earlier that year, the plaintiff in a land dispute case had made several attempts to bribe Loan, but the non-compromising judge took the ethical high-ground and refused the ‘incentive.’

As a result, the displeased plaintiff sought revenge by attacking the judge with acid, leaving 64 percent of her body burned, mainly on the face and torso.

The painstaking way back

Loan undertook 41 surgeries over a nine-year period after the incident.

During the first 61 days of treatment, she was unable to close her eyes or open her mouth, relying on nasograstric tube feeding for survival.

One of the doctors in charge revealed to her husband that being able to see again would be a miracle.

Nguyen Thi Kim Loan before the acid attack. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Nguyen Thi Kim Loan before the acid attack. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Surgeons painstakingly carried out skin grafting procedures, using skin from Loan’s thighs, arms, and shoulders to rebuild her chest and face.

Yet the physical pain paled in comparison to the mental challenge.

Her two-year-old daughter recoiled in fear when confronted with her facially deformed mother, saying, “This is not my mom.”

Vietnamese doctors advised her family members against installing mirrors in the house to keep Loan from mental shock, but a team of Singaporean doctors who Loan contacted for help said otherwise.

They encouraged her to face the facts and battle her mental issues head-on.

“I spent 6-8 hours a day looking in the mirror, learning to accept my new self,” Loan said in an interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

Just one year after the shocking incident, Loan returned to her postgraduate studies.

Juggling class hours and surgeries was difficult, but through perseverance she was able to complete her work without missing a single lesson.

“I had to dress like a Muslim woman, using a big scarf to keep my face completely covered. I didn’t want any attention,” she added.

Despite the tough time, the star-crossed judge graduated with honors and earned her master’s degree with a thesis on “Professional Development for Judges at People’s Courts.”

“At that time, I thought to myself: surviving the incident is the testimony that what I chose to do was right,” Loan told Tuoi Tre in an interview.
“At that time, I thought to myself: surviving the incident is the testimony that what I chose to do was right,” Loan told Tuoi Tre in an interview.

The much awaited outcome

In 2014, her husband almost had a heart attack when Loan mentioned her intention to return to the court.

After all, there were plenty of reasons for her to stay home – a weakened physical state, the need to stay out of the sunshine, and the crushing mental blow from the attack.

Loan did not let these obstacles stand in her way.

Determined to make a comeback, Loan applied for a position at the Supreme People’s Court and was admitted to work at the Institute of Judicial Studies, which deals with theoretical aspects of law enforcement.

Though she could no longer act as a judge, she would still be working in law enforcement.

“I even had an opportunity to involve myself in the drafting of Vietnam’s Civil Procedure Code, so indirectly I am still working in the field I am passionate about,” she said.

“My brain was frozen for a while, but now it has reignited.”

Talking about her disposition, she said that she has always stuck to the principles of seriousness, carefulness, and fairness.

“The incident never made me falter,” she stressed.

According to the Vietnam’s Supreme People’s Court website on the best examples of good conduct, Nguyen Thi Kim Loan was in charge of over 500 cases during her 15 years of working as a judge, and there was not a single instance of misjudgment.

“She is the image of righteousness, determination, and passion,” reads the website.

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