Italian doctor back in Vietnam to help children with genital loss

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An Italian doctor known for successful genital reconstruction surgeries worldwide, including one high-profile case in Vietnam, is returning the country to prepare for more surgeries.

The Da Nang Obstetrics and Children's Hospital said the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation in Vietnam, which has funded several operations so far, has signed a contract with the hospital to help children in the central region, news website VnExpress reported.

Dr. Roberto DeCastro will visit the hospital on November 15 to examine 11 children suffering from genital loss and will return next year to treat them, as well as examine more children.

He will work for free, as he did before, while his travel and stay is covered by the charity group.

But the patients will have to cover their own hospital bills. Expenses for insurance holders are covered by the state budget and the charity group said it would help poor families with part of the money.

A similar surgery in Italy costs at least $50,000, which can cover the cost of roughly 30 surgeries in Vietnam.

Genital loss is caused by traumatic injury, penile agenesis, sexual development disorders, congenital defects, micropenis, or botched 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.

They will need two or three phalloplasty sessions every six months.

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

He first came to Vietnam in August 2010 to examine some 110 children before performing the first surgeries in November last year with Vietnamese-American doctor Tue Dinh of the Institute for Reconstructive Surgery in Texas, US, and Emilio Merlini"”an Italian colleague.


Fixing childhood

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During his most recent visit last June, DeCastro followed up with his former patients, 15 of whom are fine and 11 of whom need further surgeries.

The surgeries were initiated thanks to Tran Mai Anh, the representative of the program in Hanoi, who had convinced doctors and philanthropists to help her adopted son.

Thien Nhan, now six, 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 devored his genitals and his right leg.

Anh heard about the boy on TV, decided to adopt him and then brought him to the US, Singapore, Thailand and Europe seeking treatment until meeting Greig Craft, director of Asia Injury Prevention Foundation, and then Dr. Dinh who informed her about DeCastro.

The Italian doctor operated on the boy in Italy in 2010 and 2011, and then again in Hanoi last June.

The surgeries were successful and many parents have called Anh asking if she could help them, she said.

Anh and the group who helped her son have received around 1,000 requests for help from parents.

The Italian doctor wants to teach the phalloplasty procedure to his Vietnamese counterparts so they can treat more children in the country.

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