By Mitchell Clarke
Lying in his St John of God Hospital bed looking out across the bustling Berwick, seven-year-old Chien is living in a world further from anything he’s ever known.
Growing up neglected by his parents in a remote Vietnamese village, eight hours away from the nearest city, Chien was born with a condition known as club feet.
He’s never walked and has relied solely on upper body strength to move around, using his arms to lift, manoeuvre and move his body.
If Chien was born in the Western world, the condition would be corrected by orthotics but the absence of medical treatment in his village allowed his deformity to take hold, resulting in his right foot becoming completely inverted.
Weighing just 12 kilograms, school friends carry him around on their backs to assist him in getting around but an orthopaedic surgeon was determined to change that forever.
St John of God’s Dr Ton Tran regularly visits his own hometown of Vietnam to perform surgery on children in need and said he often comes into contact with a number of children suffering from a variety of illnesses, genetic disorders and disabilities.
“It’s very sad because many of them suffer from genetic disorders which cannot be cured or fixed,” Dr Tran explained.
“Meeting Chien was different. I knew I could fix his problem with just one operation.
“I returned to Australia and went to see CEO Lisa Norman, I told her about Chien and that I was prepared to operate on him here in Australia but I needed a hospital.
“I told her that once I showed her a photo of Chien, she would never say no.”
Ms Norman agreed instantly and so began the lengthy procedure to bring Chien to Australia, with the assistance of The Children First Foundation, who enabled the energetic seven-year-old to fly out to Australia with his carer Vy and her 16-year-old son Duc, also wheel chair bound with cerebral palsy.
“We are playing a small role in an incredible chain of people and organisations who have advocated for Chien and worked incredibly hard to bring him to Australia,” Ms Norman said.
“I’m so pleased we can support Ton and enable Chien’s surgery to take place. It really will change his life.”
Upon arrival, the seven-year-old, who speaks no English, was fascinated by the little things: fixated on the concept of lift doors, McDonald’s drive thru, and reportedly finding humour in Dr Tran blowing into hospital gloves.
On Saturday 30 November, Chien went in for surgery where Dr Tran rearranged the bones in his feet in an operation which was set to take four hours but took eight hours to correct a hip dysplasia.
Now on the road to recovery, the lively youngster is lapping up hospital life where he’s developed an addiction to apples and icy poles.
“Chien is very cheeky. He’s very bright and inquisitive,” Ms Norman said.
“Once he is able to walk and gain independence, he will have his whole life ahead of him.”
Chien will recover at the hospital before relocating with Vy and Duc to the Children First Foundation Miracle Smiles Retreat in Kilmore.
As part of rehabilitation, he will rely on a walking frame and orthotic devices to support his legs and feet while he builds muscle and learns to walk.
It’s anticipated Chien will return to Vietnam before the New Year and will be walking within six to 12 months.