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Mystery couple fund wing at Kantha Bopha

Mystery couple fund wing at Kantha Bopha

A moving story of tragedy and generosity lies behind the opening on Sept 22 of a newly restored wing in the Kantha Bopha children's hospital.

A Swiss couple who had lost their only daughter were so stirred by the plight of Cambodia's sick children that they donated $360,000 to the hospital.

They had attended one of Dr Beat Richner's concerts last year in Zurich, when, as his alias the virtuoso cellist Beatocello, he played to raise money.

The couple requested anonymity. Even Dr Richner does not know who they are. Their sole request is that the building be named after their child, and a simple plaque bearing her name, Bettina, is being prepared.

The original hospital was also built in memory of a lost daughter. Kantha Bopha was King Sihanouk's child who died of leukemia when she was four years old. The King reopened the hospital on Sept 22, 1992, after Dr Richner had single-handedly raised the money to rebuild it.

Exactly two years later to the day, Prince Norodom Ranarridh attended the opening of the restored wing with Princess Marie. He said he felt emotional revisiting the hospital named after his sister.

The date and day were auspicious as the sun shone brilliantly in a clear sky, the first such morning after weeks of rain. "It is a good sign," said Dr Richner.

The fine colonial building, dating from 1920, was originally a maternity wing and has been redecorated to the highest standards by French architect Laurent Gross and a Cambodian team.

There are 60 beds, a blood bank, laboratories with state-of-the-art x-rays, serology equipment for diagnosing hepatitis and polio, and the technology to diagnose tuberculosis through molecular biology.

Richner, in his opening speech, recalled the Swiss newspaper that dubbed Kantha Bopha a Rolls Royce of a hospital.

Prince Ranarridh elaborated: "A Mercedes, as you all know, is a beautiful car, but a Rolls Royce is even better."

Dr Richner has raised the $7.5 million spent so far on the hospital's construction, medicines and staff, through concerts in Switzerland.

Sixty percent of donations are between $5-$200. "Many donors are women," said Dr Richner, who also contributed $250,000 of his own money. Twenty percent of his time is spent raising funds.

The hospital has 300 staff, including 3 surgeons, 32 doctors, 85 nurses, 20 technicians, 8 x-ray consultants, 45 cleaners, 40 security personnel, and 30 maintenance workers. Only 10 of the doctors and anaestheticists are expats.

Kantha Bopha treats more than1,000 outpatients a day, reaching a maximum of 1,830 children in one morning. In August they treated 24,000 children. Since reopening in 1992 they have treated 258,000 children, of whom 16,000 were hospitalised.

Without Kantha Bopha's facilities, 9,000 of them would have died. Families come from as far as 200 kilometres away, by motorcycle, taxi or cyclo.

For 1995, the maintenance of Kantha Bopha will be $3.5 million.

In Europe, claims Dr Richner, the construction of a provincial hospital per bed is $4 million

Dr Ty Kieng Hy, 41, a surgeon, said his work at Kantha Bopha was fascinating. "I do 7 or 8 small operations a day."

Dr Chhour Serey Chetana, 35, who completed his studies at Cambodia's Faculty of Medicine said, "I love children. Sometimes I do 2 or 3 major operations in one day. Richner is the best doctor I have worked with."

Dr Cheng Ngiep, 30, said simply, "This is the best hospital in Cambodia." For Bettina's memory, there could be no finer tribute.

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