Cambodian toddler recovering after surgery in Dominican Republic

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Millikan High senior Lauren Briand, left, and Socheat Nha in her Briand's Long Beach home in February. Behind her is Nha's father, Phin Ken, and her cousin, Kenha Heang, right. (Jeff Gritchen/Press-Telegram)

By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer
Long Beach Press Telegram (California, USA)

A Cambodian girl taken from her homeland to receive life extending surgery was resting comfortably after a four-hour surgery performed in the Dominican Republic.

Socheat Nha, who turned 3 years old Wednesday, survived a tricky operation to repair a large hole in her heart and also had work done on the pulmonary artery that connects the heart ventricle to the lungs.

Although Dr. Rodrigo Soto, who performed the procedure, said the next 48 hours remain critical, he did say Socheat left the operating room in good condition and that in some ways her condition was not as bad as initially feared.

Soto, a surgeon from Chile working for the International Children's Heart Foundation, said he closed the hole, called a ventricular septal defect. Socheat, however, might need more work done in 6 to 10 years on her pulmonary artery, he said.

If she gets through the recovery period without incident, "she should be able to grow, put on weight and live a normal life."

Socheat overcame a big hurdle by making it through the operation without issue, but there are myriad other complications that can arise in the two days of recovery, according to doctors.

Peter Chhun, the head of Hearts Without Boundaries, which brought Socheat from Cambodia for the procedure, was cautiously optimistic.

"We all jumped up and down with joy that she survived the surgery," he said, "but I told her father we will celebrate when we all walk out of here together."

Socheat has gone through a circuitous and fretful route to get this far.

When she was first accepted by Hearts Without Boundaries to receive the surgery, it was planned that she would have an operation done in Las Vegas. However, doctors canceled her surgery because of complications and fear she would not survive.

With the help of a cardiologist in San Diego, Chhun was able to connect with International Children's Heart Foundation, which specializes in treating children from Third World countries.

That organization offered to perform the procedure in Santiago, Dominican Republic.

Chhun had to raise funds to cover travel expenses and to pay for the hospital, although the surgeon donated his services.

Despite his immediate relief, Chhun sound exhausted when reached by phone in the Dominican Republic.

He said the celebration will come when Socheat walks out of the hospital doors., 562-499-1291


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