Quang Ngai, Vietnam – Nicole Friedland, Interplast Staff & photos by John Urban
As the clinic continued, we noticed an older woman, spine straight and head up, with a severe bilateral cleft lip, her teeth permanently displayed. There was a murmur among the group as we contemplated living with such a profound disfigurement for so long. I was struck by the dignity with which she sat, patiently waiting her turn as the hours passed.
I was thrilled when the surgeons examined her and determined that she was a candidate for surgery. Here is her story:
To lives on a remote island. She heard that the Interplast team was coming, so she traveled for two days to reach Quang Ngai. She grows onions and garlic and is a wife and mother. We were surprised that she had been able to marry with her disfigurement, but she shared that her husband was deformed from Agent Orange. She proudly told us that she has four healthy children. Her eldest daughter has finished high school and is now studying accounting in DaNang. To’s aunt, who had accompanied her to Quang Ngai, chimed in that To's daughter was very beautiful.
To say her life had been hard, and that she has been teased and shunned. She found school painful and dropped out in 2nd grade. When she was nine, she had the chance to have her lip fixed by a visiting team, but they told her she would have to have skin grafted to her lip, and she was too scared to go through with the surgery.
She felt very ready for the surgery this time, and was feeling happy. She repeatedly shook our hands and smiled. Her husband is aware she was coming in hopes of having surgery but she says it will be a surprise for her children. She looks forward now to attending their weddings with her reconstructed lip.