Vietnamese man tries to settle into tumor-free life

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Nguyen Duy Hai (right) and his mother one year after a "miracle" surgery freed him from a 90-kilo tumor

One year after a US surgeon successfully removed a nearly 90 kilogram tumor in an operation that made headlines worldwide, Nguyen Duy Hai is walking the streets of his hometown.

The 33-year-old has been enjoying life's trivialities that required his mother's help for years, and for the first time in decades, has been doing a lot of sightseeing around the Central Highlands town of Da Lat.

"When I was 21, and the tumor had grown to 30 kilograms, I stopped going out as people just stared at me and my abnormal tumor.

"Now when I go out, people smile with me and look at me differently. Some have followed me to ask how I have recovered," Hai was quoted by Tuoi Tre as saying in a Monday report.

Hai has neurofibromatosis type I (NF-1), a genetic disorder formerly known as von Recklinghausen disease. A tumor appeared on his right leg when he was four. It continued to grow, forcing him to withdraw from school in sixth grade.

He consented to have his right leg amputated 16 years ago, but the tumor returned.

The tumor was successfully removed in January last year by Dr. McKay McKinnon after an operation that took more than 30 hours at the upscale France-Vietnam (FV) Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City. The cost of the treatment totaled nearly VND900 million (US$43,400). The Red Cross in Da Lat contributed VND110 million, other donors contributed VND142 million, and the hospital provided the rest.

Hai now looks thinner and has a suntan from going out.

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He said that since he was discharged from the hospital in June, he has had the chance to "properly" take in Da Lat at first riding on the back of a friend's motorbike.

"Everything was new and strange," he said, noting that he felt like a tourist.

He also remembered the sound of his left foot stepping on the soil in his front yard. He'd been walking around the house with a folding walker.

But the more important thing to him is that he can go back to doing very normal activities by himself, like going to the bathroom.

"Nothing makes me happier than Hai being able to do daily activities on his own," said his mother, Cho Con, 63.

"At the recent examination, doctors said he is in very good shape," she said.

Doctor Phan Van Thai from the FV Hospital told Tuoi Tre that Hai's condition has improved since he was discharged.

Blood tests at the most recent checkup on November 13 showed he is no longer suffering from anemia or thyroid decline, and a CT scan showed no trace of tumors, the doctor said.

Long life ahead

Hai has called his tumor-free life a "miracle."

He said he is much luckier than many people with his condition.

"Recently, a girl in Hanoi with a tumor of nearly 20 kilograms on her back called me for help.

"I have given her the contact information of people who have helped me and I also asked Dr. McKinnon to come back sometime to help her and others like me," he said.

But he also said that the joy of his new life has had several hiccups and that he is still struggling to take care of himself financially.

Around four months after the discharge, he realized that he could not pursue his dream job of fixing mobile phones.

He said he went to a local mobile shop after his wounds had healed. The shop owner offered a free apprenticeship, but he had to quit after two or three days as his hands could not stop shaking when holding small screws and the like.

"Fixing cell phones is my favorite job but my health could not handle it, which made me very sad and discouraged.

"I just want to have a job to feed myself. I don't want to depend on money from my mother and my sister forever," Hai said.

He also considered opening a small variety store and a local has agreed to rent the space for him at a cheap price of VND1 million (US$48) a month but so far, Hai has lacked the funds to start the project.

The plan to be fitted for a prosthetic leg in the US also seems out of reach now.

An invitation from Amanda Schumacher, the founder of the Tree of Life International Foundation, and one of the main supporters of Hai's surgery, and Dr. McKinnon's assurance to take care of him failed to persuade the US Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City to grant him a visa.

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