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Doctors, philanthropists offer more phalloplasties in Hanoi

Greig Craft, director of Asia Injury Prevention Foundation, with the boys who last November received genital reconstructive surgeries at Hanoi's National Hospital of Pediatrics for which his organization helps raise funds

An Italian doctor and his Vietnamese-American colleague have successfully reconstructed genitals for 26 children suffering from genital loss and defects at a Hanoi hospital.

The free surgeries were conducted between June 11 and 22 at the National Hospital of Pediatrics by Dr Roberto DeCastro of Bologna, Italy, and Dr Tue Dinh of the Institute for Reconstructive Surgery in Texas, USA.

They also trained Hanoi medical personnel to care for the children after their departure on Friday.

The patients range between six and 14 years of age and reside in cities and towns all over Vietnam.

DeCastro has performed 31 phalloplasties, on children around the world in the past eight years using a patient's lower abdomen to create genitals that continue to develop as the child grows.

The only other medical solution for missing genitals is gender reassignment for males, which "almost always has negative medical and psychological results," Son Michael Pham, founder and director of charity organization Kids Without Borders, said in a press release.

Last November, Pham and Greig Craft, president of the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation in Vietnam helped fund surgeries for 26 children in Vietnam. Since then, they have arranged for the surgeries to continue.

Genital loss is caused by traumatic injury, penile agenesis, disorders of sexual development, congenital defects, micropenis, or failed circumcisions due to surgical complications or infection.

Young girls usually suffer from trauma of the perineum involving the vagina and urethra, or congenital effects such as the total absence of a vagina.

DeCastro first came to Vietnam in August 2010 to examine some 110 children before performing the first surgeries last year with Dinh and Emilio Merlini"”an Italian colleague.

During his most recent visit, DeCastro followed up with his former patients, 15 of whom are fine and 11 of whom need further surgeries, Hoang Thi Na Huong, deputy director of the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation in Vietnam, told Vietweek.


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DeCastro is expected to return in November to examine new patients and perform next-step surgeries for old patients.

"Each child must go through two or three surgeries," Huong said. "Usually, they are performed every six months."

The doctors performed the surgeries for free, while their travel and stay were paid for by Craft and Pham's organizations.

A similar surgery in Italy costs at least $50,000. In Vietnam, that same sum covers the cost of roughly 30 surgeries, Tran Mai Anh, the representative of the program in Hanoi, said.

"That's why we have been sticking to Vietnam," she told Vietweek.

Anh has worked on the project since it began. She started taking an interest in the condition when she convinced doctors and philanthropists to help treat her own adopted son.

The boy made national headlines when he was found abandoned three days after his birth in a mountainous region of Quang Nam Province in central Vietnam.

Animals had devoured his genitals and his right leg.

The baby lost a lot of blood before being discovered by a group of passing monks who rushed him to hospital by motorbike. The boy was named "Thien Nhan" meaning "Good Person" by the monks.

Anh, 39, says she heard about the boy on TV.

"I went to the province and simply decided to adopt him," she said.

Following the adoption, the Hanoi woman traveled to different countries including the US, Singapore, Thailand and Europe seeking treatment to no avail.

She met Craft on a flight and they became "family," she said.

"He has traveled to almost every country with me and the boy," she said.

When Pham learned about Anh's adopted son, he agreed to help fund the boy's treatment.

When Anh met Dinh, the doctor informed her about DeCastro's successful treatments. DeCastro operated on the boy in Italy in 2010 and 2011. The cost of the surgeries was $60,000.

"After the success, many parents called asking if I could help them," she said. "I asked the doctor and he said he could do it."

"At first I thought there would be five or seven cases and everything could be done in a week. But the cases have multiplied," said the adoptive mother whose son received his third and final surgery on Thursday at the Hanoi hospital with other children.

Anh said the six-year-old is going to primary school, after spending kindergarten "happy, active and getting on well with other children."

But Anh worries that people will see Nhan or other children victims smiling on the television and make the mistake of thinking that genital defects are simply a minor medical problem.

"Many cases involve infection and without timely intervention many of these children may die."

Anh said most cases originate in poor areas where the parents do not have the knowledge or resources to take care of their children.

"The children were the victims of unnecessary accidents; their genitals were eaten by fish, were electrocuted, or mangled in vehicle accidents," she said.

Anh and her collaborators have received around 1,000 requests for help from parents. They hope to assemble a team of professional physicians who are willing to treat Vietnamese children suffering from the disorder.

But they are currently trying different ways to cover the exorbitant costs.

This Saturday at 7:30 p.m., the group will hold a benefit concert titled "Thien Nhan Journey" in Ho Chi Minh City at the Military Theater, 140 Cong Hoa Street, Tan Binh District.

Vietnamese performers including a children dance group and popular pop singers Cam Van, Dam Vinh Hung and Hien Thuc will participate for free.

The concert, which will be broadcast live on HTV1 channel of Ho Chi Minh City Television, charges no entrance cost.

Donations can be given at the concert or sent to Anh's Vietcombank account in Hanoi at 0011000474142 and Asia Injury Prevention Foundation's Citibank account in HCMC at 0-300411-002 for US dollar and 0-300411-029 for Vietnamese currency.

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