Long Beach nonprofit trying to help another young Cambodian heart patient

Friday, July 9, 2010

Doctors in Cambodia examine Bunlak Song, who was abandoned by his homeless birth mother at two days old.
Bunlak Song, 2, needs heart surgery.


By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer
Long Beach Press Telegram

"As we checked in at a small hotel," Chhun recalls, "she begged me, `Please help Bunlak, lok ta (grandpa), I hope and pray, and I pray very hard that you can save his life."'
At a dusty roadside store in Cambodia between Phnom Penh and the Vietnamese border, Peter Chhun found his latest cause, another life in the balance.

Bunlak Song, was only two days old when his homeless mother begged Siv Leng Chuy and Chin Song Hai, who were visiting their adult daughter in the hospital, to take her son. By nightfall the mother left the hospital and her child behind.

Bunlak's adoptive parents scratch out a living selling gas in plastic bottles to local taxis, motorcycles and tuk-tuks in their home village of Kampong Popil. But they have taken the boy in and say he has brought them luck.

However, they need a miracle if Bunlak, who will be 3 in October, is to live a normal life.

Bunlak suffers from several congenital heart defects, including a ventral septal defect, or a hole in the heart, and coarctation, or narrowing, of the aorta.

This has led to a variety of maladies, including hypertension in the lungs and a history of dyspnea, or labored breathing, since birth, according to a report by Dr. Luy Lyda of Angkor Hospital for Children.

Left untreated, the conditions could lead to a shortened life expectancy and declining health.

Chhun founded Hearts Without Boundaries, a small nonprofit in Long Beach to help children like Bunlak. Since 2008, Chhun has helped three destitute Cambodian children receive life-altering open heart surgeries not available to them in their home country.

Chhun annually travels to Cambodia with Variety Lifeline which provides minor heart procedures for children. He hopes after that visit to bring Bunlak to the U.S. in December if the boy is determined a good candidate for surgery.

In the interim, he hopes to broker a deal with a hospital to take on Bunsak.

Chhun's three previous clients, Davik Teng, Soksamnang Vy and Socheat Nha, were treated by surgeons who donated services and hospitals that either donated facilities or offered them at deep discounts.

Chhun met Bunlak and his family on a recent trip to Cambodia. He recalls talking to Chuy after a 5-hour trip to Siem Reap to have Bunlak examined.

"As we checked in at a small hotel," Chhun recalls, "she begged me, `Please help Bunlak, lok ta (grandpa), I hope and pray, and I pray very hard that you can save his life."'

Information about Hearts Without Boundaries is available online at heartswithoutboundaries.org. The group also has a page on Facebook.

greg.mellen@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1291 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 562-499-1291


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