By Kids Without Borders
For Northwest Asian Weekly
Dubbed the miracle baby, Vietnamese toddler Thien Nhan Phung, who was abandoned at birth and brutally mauled by wild animals, has once again lived up to his name. It was believed that Phung’s testicles had been severed in the attack.
However, recent tests performed by Thai specialists at Bangkok’s Preecha Aesthetic Institute revealed that the toddler, who is almost 3, has retained two undescended testicles.
This condition exists in only about 3–4 percent of male babies at birth. Had Phung’s testicles descended normally, they would likely have been lost during the mauling.
Found 72 hours after his teenage mom had left him in a fallow field, his ravaged body was covered with blood and ants.
The infant was carried for two hours by a motorbike over rough mountain roads to the closest hospital in Quang Nam, Vietnam. He survived but was later released to the care of relatives who were unable to care for him.
When Vietnamese journalist Mai Anh Tran, 35, first met the boy, then 16 months old, he was severely malnourished and suffering from chronic urinary tract, gut, and skin infections.
“After all that he had been through, I could not bear to see him suffering like that,” said Tran. “I could not sleep at night thinking of him living in those conditions.”
Tran and her journalist husband, Quang Nghinh Phung (no biological relation to Thien Nhan Phung), adopted the boy when he was 20 months old. The child now lives in Hanoi along with the family’s two biological sons, ages 4 and 8.
“At first, Nhan was like a wild animal,” recalled Tran. “All he ate was cold rice and bananas. But he soon began to gain weight and his terrible rashes cleared up. He is now very bright, active, and talkative.”
In August 2008, the Seattle-based charity Kids Without Borders and American philanthropist Greig Craft arranged a urethral surgery for the child at Dartmouth University Hospital in the United States. Thanks to this operation, for the first time in his young life, Phung could urinate free of pain.
“Thien Nhan has overcome a great deal but many more challenges remain,” said Craft. “Along with prosthetic care, he will need multiple surgeries over the next 10 to 15 years to rebuild his genitals.”
Despite the good news, various doctors have advised the family to consider gender reassignment. While plastic surgeons can create a penis that looks natural, they warn that the reconstructed organ will have 90 percent less sensation than normal.
“We do not agree to turn him into a girl,” said Tran. “Thien Nhan’s character, way of thinking, and behaving are very obviously male. If we changed him into a female and then found that in 20 years he couldn’t accept it, we would all feel terrible.”
Approximately one-third of the boy’s penis remains intact and the family hopes that by the time he reaches adolescence, technology will have advanced enough to allow the reconstruction of a functioning, sensate penis. They are currently investigating advances in transplants and stem cell research.
Next month, Phung will return to Bangkok for more tests in preparation for surgery to create a scrotum in order to bring down his testicles.
“We hope that if we can raise enough money and gain the support of pioneering doctors, Thien Nhan will one day become a fully functioning man,” said his mom.
A special fund to cover medical treatment for Phung has been created.
Ongoing fundraising efforts are led by Kids Without Borders and the Asia Injury Prevention Foundation, which is founded and managed by Craft. ♦
For more information, visit www.KidsWithNoBorders.org or www.asiainjury.org.