Team Tong - Update # 1

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March 24th 2012
Published: April 24th 2012
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Lorenza & TongLorenza & TongLorenza & Tong

at our guesthouse
The plan …

We were very excited to finally be heading to Laos and to be able to put our plan to help Tong into action. We were working to a tight schedule, but felt confident that we had everything organised.

Before leaving Sydney we did a quick check of the arrangements:

Appointment confirmed with the specialist in Thailand – check.

Meeting organised with Tong’s father and the village leader – check.

Driver, car and translator organised to get us all to Thailand – check.

Border passes for Tong and her Father – check.

Emergency contact both here and in Laos – check.

Village meeting and the contract (23 March) …

We met with the village leader and Boun (Tong’s father) the day prior to our appointment with the specialist. We wanted to make sure that Boun understood what we had planned and to make sure we were not forcing our help onto him and his family.

At this meeting the village officials drew up a contract between all the interested parties. They explained that by doing so it would lessen the chance of any misunderstandings. The document set out the
Lorenza, Tong & BounLorenza, Tong & BounLorenza, Tong & Boun

"Now, how do I explain the delay?"
objectives and conditions of our trip to the hospital. It simply stated that we would take Tong to be examined, and that any action after that would have to be discussed and agreed to by her father. In addition, the agreement stated that we would pay for all the expenses.

We arranged to meet at our guesthouse the following morning at 8am to set off for the hospital in Udon Thani. The trip would take about two hours each way. Our group would consist of a driver, a translator, Tong, her father, plus Lorenza and I.

The best laid schemes of mice and men (24 March) …

Next morning, 8am ticked over and no-one showed. We waited until about 8:30am and then started making some calls. We found out that there had been a mix up and the driver and translator had realised at the last minute that their border passes had expired.

The driver dropped Boun and Tong at our guesthouse at about 8:50am. We did our best to explain to them what was going on. Who knows what they thought of our pathetic attempts to communicate with them via charades?

We made some frantic calls to a local contact who works in the travel industry. She managed to produce a miracle for us. Within half an hour a replacement driver and a translator had been organised, plus a mini bus to get us to Thailand. Lucky we had a guardian angel helping us in Laos!

We later found out that our new driver was in fact an IT Manager and the new translator was not only his wife, but also the Marketing Manager for another company. To protect their identity lets call them Sook and Tune.

On the road at last …

We all climbed onboard the mini bus and set out for Thailand about two hours later than expected. The trip is about 100kms and takes a few hours. It is complicated by a border crossing at the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge Number 1, near Nong Khai.

The border crossing process seemed very unorganised and chaotic to us but Sook and Tune guided us through the crossing process with a minimum of fuss.

At the hospital …

The AEK International Hospital in Udon Thani is very clean and modern. The staff spoke very good English and attended to us very efficiently. Dr Thanikan Patarakittam (an Ophthalmologist, specialising in cornea and refractive surgery) examined Tong.

We had thought that Dr Thanikan had seen Tong before, but this turned out to be one of those “lost in translation” bits of information. It turned out that a colleague of Dr Thanikan’s had seen Tong before.

After a lot of discussion we found out that Tong’s condition was a lot more complicated than first thought. The brief diagnosis being – limbal dermoid and total corneal haziness, lid coloboma, skin tags both ears and blindness of the left eye. Further examination would have to be done to rule out Goldenhar Syndrome.

Dr Thanikan explained that Tong’s left eye was not formed properly under the cyst. If the cyst was removed the eye would also have to be removed and then replaced with a glass eye. In addition, her eye lid was not properly formed and would need to be rebuilt via skin grafts. The Doctor also informed us that the right eye was not properly formed and possibly had reduced vision.

But wait – there was more – the inside of Tong’s mouth is also slightly deformed and her IQ seemed to be diminished for a child her age (possibly due to the eye sight issues). There was some good news – the growths on her eye and ears were not cancerous.

Dr Thanikan explained that she could not perform the operation. It would require the services of an Oculoplastic surgeon. Apparently, there are no Oculoplastic surgeons in the provinces, they are all located in Bangkok.

The Doctor also explained that the operation would be very painful, with a long recovery period. She suggested it would be best to wait until Tong was older and her face fully grown before proceeding.

Decisions …

We had a long discussion with Boun and Tong, via our translator. We wanted to make sure they understood the situation and what options they had. We also wanted them to know no matter what they decided they would have our full support.

In the end a joint decision was made to postpone any further talk of an operation until Tong was older. None of the adults wanted to force their opinion on her. We all agreed she may want to go ahead once she goes through puberty and gets interested in boys. We would leave that to her to decide later.

In the meantime we explained that we would put all the money raised into a trust fund so it was available to Tong at a later date if she needed further health care (which I imagine she will).

We could not have had these in depth discussions without such a wonderful translator. Tune really had a good understanding of what we were trying to do and was very patient and sympathetic.

Ongoing help with schooling and minor medical expenses…

Lorenza and I also decided to give Boun some ongoing help with the education and minor medical costs for Tong (and her older sister Ting). This will not come from the funds already raised as they will be placed in a trust.

Late lunch and shopping …

After the serious business at the hospital we took Tong to a local shopping mall for a late lunch and some retail therapy. We bought Tong and her older sister a new dress, a Barbie doll and a new pair of shoes each.

On the drive back we stopped at a Thai food market and got some pork, fish and fresh vegies and fruit for Tong to take home and share with her sisters and Grandmother. No Lao person makes a trip to Thailand without brining some goodies home from the markets.

Many thanks …

We may not have achieved everything we set out to do, but we came home knowing we did the best we could. In addition, Tong and her father know there are a lot of people in Australia who care about them. They also have a few options now which they would never have had available to them before.

Thanks to all who have made donations.

If any of you do not want your contribution placed in the trust fund please let us know via a private message.

We also owe a lot of thanks to those who helped us in Laos and to our Aussie/Lao contact here who does his best to relay info back and forth with the village.

Further updates …

As we get news of Tong and her family we will do our best to keep you informed. Thanks again for all your support.

Some references

Lorenza, Ting, Tong, Rob & BounLorenza, Ting, Tong, Rob & BounLorenza, Ting, Tong, Rob & Boun

WIth the shopping goodies.
can read more about the medical conditions mentioned in this update via the links below …

Goldenhar Syndrome


The hospital in Udon Thani


24th April 2012

A wonderfull job guys. Making a couple of people happy and realize there a people in the world that really care about others is making the difference we need in this (sometimes) crazy society. Great you are part of this. Love Guido
24th April 2012

Job well done
Congratulations on successfully giving a girl and her family hope and a little security. Even though the outcome was not what the trip intended I'm sure the experience has touched everyone involved . Good job guys thanks for the update.
25th April 2012

Laos ...again !!
Hey Bob and Lorenza, You guys are back at Laos !! Looks like some people have all the fun in the world ... cheerios and Lord Buddha bless !! bb :)

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