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Italian liver donor saves 3-year-old Vietnamese’s life

Italian liver donor saves 3-year-old Vietnamese’s life

Monday, April 01, 2024, 20:30 GMT+7
Italian liver donor saves 3-year-old Vietnamese’s life
Medical staff at Bambino Gesu Children’s Hospital pose for a photo with three-year-old Nguyen Anh Loc and Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hang (C) in Italy. Photo: Supplied

A three-year-old from Quang Ngai Province, central Vietnam, whose life hung in the balance due to a severe liver disease, underwent a successful transplant with the generous gift of the organ from an Italian donor.

In a modest house tucked away in a narrow alley in Quang Ngai City of the namesake province, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hang, a 41-year-old mother, observed her three-year-old son, Nguyen Anh Loc, playing in the courtyard with a mix of disbelief and gratitude for his very existence.

Amidst a pile of medical records inscribed in Vietnamese, English, and Italian, Hang adeptly discerned the contents based on the dates, despite not comprehending the latter two foreign languages.

Life hangs in limbo

Loc was born in September 2021, but soon after, abnormalities emerged.

The baby suffered from jaundice and incessant crying. 

Seeking medical attention, Hang brought her child to Quang Ngai Hospital for Children and Women, where a diagnosis of congenital biliary atresia was confirmed by doctors.

After spending two months in the hospital enduring intermittent pain, which left Loc crying incessantly, he was transferred to Children’s Hospital 1 in Ho Chi Minh City for his first surgery to remove his gallbladder at just three months old.

Despite being discharged after 45 days and appearing to recover, Loc soon developed a high fever upon returning home, prompting another visit to the hospital in the southern metropolis. 

Test results revealed the heartbreaking diagnosis of liver cirrhosis, leaving Hang devastated and desperate for a solution.

The two doctors who performed Nguyen Anh Loc’s surgery pose for a photo with Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hang and the three-year-old boy before their return to Vietnam. Photo: Supplied

The two doctors who performed Nguyen Anh Loc’s surgery pose for a photo with Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hang and the three-year-old boy before their return to Vietnam. Photo: Supplied

Hang’s hopes were shattered upon learning that the only chance to save her child was a liver transplant, a procedure she could not afford. 

Despite enduring numerous hospital visits and financial struggles, Hang remained steadfast in her dedication to caring for her son, who spent more time in medical facilities than at home since birth.

Loc’s condition deteriorated further as his fever persisted, accompanied by swelling in his stomach and yellowing of his eyes and skin. 

“One night at 3:00 am, Loc coughed up a significant amount of blood, prompting an urgent emergency intervention,” Hang recounted, expressing her anguish. 

“Doctors urged me to stay calm. How could I possibly remain calm?”

As financial resources dwindled, Hang made the difficult decision to return with her child to their hometown, resigning herself to their fate and determined to be by Loc’s side every day, as long as she could.

Nguyen Anh Loc feeds himself after his successful liver transplant. Photo: Tran Mai / Tuoi Tre

Nguyen Anh Loc feeds himself after his successful liver transplant. Photo: Tran Mai / Tuoi Tre

Lucky encounter

While Hang was recounting their journey, Loc affectionately approached her, inadvertently revealing the scar on his stomach from the surgery. 

Hang said that every time she sees the scar, she is reminded of their benefactors.

“They are our saints, we will be grateful for the entirety of our life,” she emphasized. 

Loc’s chance for survival began when Hang went to buy him a silver necklace for health benefits, and the shop owner, moved by their story, reached out to Thao, a retired teacher known for aiding those in need. 

Thao, touched by Loc’s plight, sought help from Dr. Nguyen Huu Anh Triet, based in New York, who then coordinated with Children’s Hospital 1 and colleagues in Italy to arrange procedures for Loc’s treatment. 

A ray of hope emerged when Dr. Triet returned to Quang Ngai Province during the 2023 Lunar New Year holiday to visit the pediatric patients he had been assisting.

Upon meeting Loc, Dr. Triet confidently declared, “Loc will be saved.”

It was only later that Hang realized Dr. Triet’s words were meant to provide comfort; in reality, Loc’s illness was grave. 

Thao, however, smiled and remarked, “Dr. Triet’s assurance is genuine, as is his hope. He believes in the boundless potential of the medical profession and the ability of doctors to perform miracles.”

Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hang holds her three-year-old son Nguyen Anh Loc in their hometown in Quang Ngai Province, central Vietnam. Photo: Tran Mai / Tuoi Tre

Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hang holds her three-year-old son Nguyen Anh Loc in their hometown in Quang Ngai Province, central Vietnam. Photo: Tran Mai / Tuoi Tre

With a compatible liver donor found in Loc’s older brother Dat, Dr. Triet swiftly organized the necessary arrangements for his surgery at Bambino Gesu Children’s Hospital in Italy, but setbacks arose when the Italian Embassy in Vietnam denied Hang, Loc, and Dat visas. 

Responding to the urgency, Bambino Gesu Children’s Hospital intervened, securing visas for their travel. 

Despite Loc’s deteriorating health, they boarded a plane on February 14, 2023, and miraculously, Loc remained stable until their arrival in Italy.

Reborn

Upon their arrival at the airport, staff from Bambino Gesu Children’s Hospital eagerly awaited the mother and two children, followed by Vietnamese expatriates in Italy who volunteered as interpreters and assisted with procedures. 

In the subsequent days, Loc received meticulous care, including daily measurements of his waist circumference and regular urine and blood tests.

“The doctors in Italy were incredibly devoted; every morning, they greeted Loc with 'Chao Loc' [‘Hi, Loc’ in Vietnamese], attending to his every need and monitoring Dat’s health,” Hang recounted.

On April 5, 2023, Dat and Loc underwent the transplant surgery, which lasted 12 hours. 

Post-surgery, Loc remained in a coma for seven days before awakening with a fever. 

A medical staff member at Bambino Gesu Children’s Hospital poses for a photo with Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hang and her three-year-old son Nguyen Anh Loc during their time in Italy. Photo: Supplied

A medical staff member at Bambino Gesu Children’s Hospital poses for a photo with Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hang and her three-year-old son Nguyen Anh Loc during their time in Italy. Photo: Supplied

Following complications with the incision, Loc required a second operation on April 18, 2023, which left him in a deep coma.

“Doctors explained that Loc’s blood duct was narrow, and the newly transplanted liver was showing signs of failure,” Hang recalled.

“We had two options: relying on his own ability to survive or searching for another compatible donor.”

Though filled with despair, Hang signed a consent form to look for a new donor, though without much hope. 

However, just two hours and a half later, a young Italian’s liver became available, offering renewed hope. 

The subsequent surgery was a success, with the Italian liver proving compatible.

“The moment doctors signaled that my baby was okay, I couldn’t hold back my tears,” Hang recounted emotionally. 

“Even the Italian doctors cried; they hugged and reassured me.”

Over the following months of treatment, the medical staff at Bambino Gesu Children’s Hospital showered Loc with special affection, bringing smiles to his face daily. 

On November 8, 2023, the boy was declared healthy, and the mother and her children were cleared to return to Vietnam, with a promise from doctors for a follow-up examination in Italy a year later.

A medical staff member at Bambino Gesu Children’s Hospital poses for a photo with Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hang and her three-year-old son Nguyen Anh Loc during their time in Italy. Photo: Supplied

A medical staff member at Bambino Gesu Children’s Hospital poses for a photo with Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hang and her three-year-old son Nguyen Anh Loc during their time in Italy. Photo: Supplied

Reflecting on the extraordinary journey to save Loc’s life, Hang said she felt as though she was living in a fairy tale. 

She never imagined that Dr. Triet’s assistance would extend beyond a donation to cover all treatment and living expenses during their ten months in Italy.

“Dr. Triet is the savior who appeared to rescue my child,” Hang declared with emotion.

Upon returning to Vietnam following his life-saving journey, Loc has been undergoing regular health checks and receiving medications at Hue Central Hospital in Hue City, located in Thua Thien-Hue Province.

Dr. Triet facilitated a connection with a doctor in Hue City to oversee Loc’s care and maintain direct communication in case any issues arise. 

Expressing gratitude to all who aided her and her child, Hang wishes to visit Italy for her son’s follow-up examination and personally thank the liver donor, whose courage ensured the boy’s continued presence in this world.

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Bao Anh - Tran Mai / Tuoi Tre News

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