Vuthy and his aunt Theary, who has been at his bedside for over 3 months, at the Children’s Surgical Centre in Phnom Penh. PHOTO SUPPLIED
Siem Reap night market fire victim Vuthy is on the path to healing…with more than a little help from his friends
Miraculous survivor Hu Sok Vuthy, aged seventeen, who was a victim of the tragic night market fire in town on December 8 and has been undergoing treatment in Vietnam, could be back in Siem Reap in as little as two weeks before going to the US for further rehabilitation.
Having spent the last four months being treated at Ho Chi Minh City’s Cho Ray Hospital, Vuthy was moved to the Children’s Surgical Centre in Phnom Penh on March 28. Here he will undergo observation and possible minor reconstructive surgery.
Vuthy started physical rehabilitation on March 29 and is already able to stand more frequently and with greater ease. At Cho Ray Hospital he could only stand once or twice a day, for thirty seconds at a time. Vuthy’s amazing recovery is largely thanks to Belgian expat Geert Vanbaelen, beverage manager at The Warehouse and employee of Fine Star wine distribution company. He was moved not only to raise funds contributing to half of Vuthy’s medical bills, but also sought advice from medical
professionals all over the world.
“I am not sure why I undertook this endeavor, completely new to me,” says Vanbaelen. “After the horrific news of that night, I felt I had to do something.”
On December 8, 2012 Vuthy and his younger brother Vatha spent two and a half hours trapped in the night market fire which killed eight people including Vuthy’s parents and little sister. According to Vanbaelen, the city fire brigade took over an hour and a half to respond. The boys were eventually rescued by the Siem Reap Airport fire brigade. Vatha, 13, suffered burns to his hands and feet, but is now fully recovered and living with his grandparents.
Along with local businesswoman and Selantra restaurant owner Chan Saryroth, Vanbaelen decided to raise funds to help Vuthy.
“We organised a fundraising event a few days after the fire, and it went on from there,” he says. “Through raising many contacts via other contacts, I have received assistance and medical advice from doctors and other people from Vietnam, US, Canada, Italy, Belgium and more. This has greatly helped me to provide the best information for the family. I believe it is also the reason why Vuthy survived. I could not have done it without them.”
He adds, “At first I was furious with the emergency response services and corruption therein, leading to eight deaths, and that no one was helping these boys afterwards. But instead of getting angry, I decided the best way would be to help these two brothers.”
Through Chan and Vanbaelen’s fundraising efforts, $10,000 was raised which went towards covering half of Vuthy’s medical bills.
“The total bills in Cambodia and Vietnam ran to over $20,000, with half provided by our fundraising,” says Vanbaelen. “All collected funds were paid directly to the hospital. The extended family managed to find the other half by scraping left and right,
week by week.
“I would like to mention that Mike Doyle, of Kids with Cancer Foundation of Vietnam, was of tremendous help to us, not only by donating his time to visit Vuthy in Ho Chi Minh City often, but also by discussing the case with the hospital directors, and providing much of his own funds to help.”
Vanbaelen describes Vuthy as a “miraculous survivor” and extremely lucky to survive over 60 per cent third degree burns, which is usually fatal.
“All the skin grafts seem to be taking,” he says. “It will require quite some time for skin to regenerate and heal. According to doctor this morning, if Vuthy keeps up his physical rehabilitation, he might be able to walk by himself within one to two months’ time. There will be much scarring, but he is expected to almost fully recover.”
Vanbaelen says that everyone is “impatiently” waiting for Vuthy’s condition to further improve after which he will be transported to the Shriners Hospital for Children in Boston, Massachusetts, a leading centre for pediatric burn care.
“The hospital has already confirmed they will take his case pro bono for full rehabilitation and reconstruction. They are insisting we send him as soon as he is able to fly,” he says. “We are currently studying ways to get him there, starting to contact airlines for assistance.”