Being at the Right Place and the Right Time

When visiting old friends at Aine Savanh Village, the unit head’s wife was carrying her five year-old son Baeng on her back. One of Baeng’s leg was incredibly blistered. Only a few hours ago, Baeng lifted a sticky rice basket, sitting on top of a pot of boiling water. The basket stuck to the pot. He lifted the pot with the basket. The hot water spilled on his leg, leaving severe, huge bubbled burn blisters on his leg. He fell on the hot water on the ground, leaving burns on his bottom. In addition to blisters, some skin had just melted off, exposing raw flesh. Baeng was brave but still cried.

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Sadly, the parents were not going to take Baeng to the hospital. They had no money. We immediately fetched our pickup truck and lay Baeng on blankets on the back truck bed. His parents accompanied him. We drove him to the provincial hospital emergency room. The doctor and nurse took care of him. Their instructions were to return to the hospital every three days for a week. Three weeks later, we’ve learned that Baeng’s raw wounds have healed. The mother has been diligently applying Neosporin (that Barbara had given to her) to his wounds.

We know what happens when we rely on parents in these poor villages to follow up. They don’t because they don’t want to, but because they don’t have the money. We gave the parents money to take cover the future transportation and hospital expense.

Barbara’s intuition was to go back to Aine Savanh to see how Baeng was doing after two days. Surprisingly, he was limping and running around, playing with his friends. His bandages were filthy dirty and stained from oozing gunk from his burns. He didn’t seem to care.

Barbara brought bags of gauze, bags of saline water, antibiotic creams, anti-stick bandages and a host of other things just in case. It was already dark. The air was mosquito filled. The only table for changing his bandages was in their outside patio. The mother went inside for a moment. She returned with a single lit light bulb attached to a long wire. The neighbors gathered around. With his arms covering his eyes. Baeng’s screamed, as Barbara pulled the old bandages, stuck to his raw, open wounds. After putting globs of antibiotic creams, gauze and an ACE bandage for extra protection from dirt, Baeng wiped his eyes, was making funny noises, and was ready to play.

We were fortunate to be there the day of the accident. Without proper medical care, his burns would have been overly exposed to the dirty environment, causing serious infections to Baeng’s leg and running more serious risks. He should be fine now.

There are many Baengs, who have accidents and are not properly cared for. It’s no wonder that the number of children who don’t survive beyond the age of five is so high. The Lao government has done an impressive job in my mind where that metric, if I remember correctly, has dropped from 20% of children do not make it past five in the 1990s to less than 8% in the mid-2000s. This is far from acceptable by western terms and the Lao government’s desires, but still is great progress.

Remembering Souliya

We wished we could save every Baeng. We recount others whom we’ve saved over the past eleven years during our visits to remote Lao villages.

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Sadly, we will remember more the young boy Souliya, whom we could not save. Phou Leuay’s Souliya fought hard to overcome his kidney infection. He lived five hours away by bus to the provincial hospital. During his fourth trip to the hospital, Souliya succumbed in his mother’s arms. She asked the bus driver to stop. She walked home with her lifeless son in her arms. Souliya, we will always remember you. (The pictures of the boy with the hood and with the boy with the blue shirt and army pants is Souliya.)

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