The joys of face saving

The Mercury article about Le, Thi Kim Chi

The joys of face saving
Hobart Mercury

HER eyes danced, and for the first time since she was a baby Thi Kim Chi Le, 17, could smile.

The badly burned Vietnamese girl, brought to Hobart by Rotary’s medical aid program for children (Romac) only four weeks ago for major plastic surgery, has become a bright and confident individual.

One anxious to express her thanks to Rotary, plastic surgeon Chris Edwards, St Johns Hospital, and all the other medical professionals who are helping transform her life at no charge.

The physical transformation is amazing; as is the growth in her self-esteem and confidence.

She has been out and about, even browsing through Salamanca Market, and yesterday kitted in a T-shirt and stylish jeans she was, for the first time, just another teenager.

Yet, she and her father had arrived at Hobart airport on March 14 with nothing but two carrybags and hopes that something could be done to repair the severe facial and hand injuries caused when she pulled an oil lamp onto herself more than 16 years ago.

Thi Kim Chi Le’s chin was fused to her neck and her mouth was distorted.

A day-long operation at St Johns on March 16 was a major success, freeing her chin and setting the scene for further reconstructive surgery.

On Monday, Mr Edwards will rebuild her right thumb which was burned back into her forearm in the accident.

Surgeon and patient embraced yesterday as an interpreter from Hobart’s Vietnamese community helped her describe her feelings, particularly the first time after the operation when she was able to talk on the phone to her mother waiting back in Vietnam.

“We cried, and we cried,” she said. “We are so very happy.”

But she didn’t require an interpreter as she headed back to her Hobart host family after yesterday’s appointment with Mr Edwards.

“Thank you. Thank you very much,” she said. The words said a lot, the smile even more.