On Thursday, March 17, the surgeons operated on Le Thi Hong,
a 54 year-old woman who lives in the village of Huyen Cai Lay, about 30 km from
My Tho. Her left leg was badly burned when she was 15, and over time contracted
to the point where it became frozen in place at an angle of almost 90
degrees. The leg also atrophied to about a quarter of the diameter of a normal
leg. As a result, her body listed at a severe angle; when she walked, the right
leg was two or more feet longer than the left. It was excruciating for us to
watch her walk.
For thirty years, she labored in the rice fields, until two years ago, when she could no longer get around enough to continue working. Because of her leg deformity, no man would consider marrying her.
Her injury occurred in 1972 during the war. On a day when there was bombing and fighting all around the village, she and her mother took refuge in a hole in the floor of their house which served as a makeshift bomb shelter. A fragment of a bomb hit the house, which caught fire and burned to the ground. As she and her mother fled the house, her pants caught fire and, by the time her mother snuffed the fire out, her leg was severely burned. Her mother was slightly injured. At some point, she was bandaged up by a South Vietnamese paratrooper who was part of a unit that parachuted into the village following the bombing. She was taken to her sister's house where the only care she received was from some kind of case workers who visited her periodically. From the time of the injury until the present, she lived with the deformity caused by the burns.
The surgeons were able to open the back of her knee, and release the leg enough to give her perhaps 30 degrees more extension of the leg. They then performed a skin graft to cover the area opened behind the knee. She will need to have the knee joint evaluated by an orthopedic surgeon to determine whether she can gain more extension through further surgery. The release that occurred through the surgery done last week will give her much more mobility.