Ailing Cambodian toddler gets help from Long Beach group
When the toddler steepled her fingers in the traditional Cambodian greeting, she earned their smiles and good will. But it was the somber results of her physical exam and tests that put Socheat Ngor on the fast track to treatment as the newest child to receive help from Hearts Without Boundaries.
Socheat, 2, lives in poverty in a village in southern Cambodia. At the age of 4 months she was diagnosed with a heart ailment that would require surgery not readily available in her home country.
Hearts Without Boundaries, a Long Beach nonprofit that has helped bring two Cambodian children to the U.S. for life-altering surgery, learned of Socheat's ailment from family in Long Beach.
At that time, she was put on a list of children in need of help and it was arranged for Socheat and her family to meet with members of the Hearts Without Boundaries team, who were in Siem Reap with doctors from Variety Children's Lifeline who make annual trips to Cambodia to help children with mild heart ailments and diagnose and assess others.
Susan Grossfeld, a volunteer who was instrumental in brokering the deal that brought one of the Cambodian children to the U.S. last year, said she was instantly enamored of Socheat.
"She's tiny and has a tiny voice," said Grossfeld.
Grossfeld added that what the girl lacked for in size she made up for in spirit and vivacity.
"People fall in love with her right away," Grossfeld said.
The first two patients, Davik Teng, 9, and Soksamnang Vy, 1, had congenital defects called ventricular septal defects, or holes in their hearts.
In the case of Socheat, Hearts Without Boundaries had started working with her family to raise money to send the child to Singapore or Thailand for the procedure.
However, when Socheat was examined by Dr. Paul Grossfeld, a cardiologist from Rady Children's Hospital who helped with the successful treatment of Vy, he found her ailment was worse than expected and her need for more rapid treatment became evident.
Socheat suffers from a defect known as tetralogy of Fallot.
"This is a much more complex defect and surgery," said Susan Grossfeld, who is Paul Grossfeld's wife.
In addition to having a large hole in her heart, Socheat also suffers from a second hole in the heart, an obstruction of blood flow to the lungs and other problems.
And in recent weeks, her health as suffered.
According to Dr. Luy Lyda of Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap, Socheat has had difficultly breathing and has visited the emergency room three times in recent weeks.
Susan Grossfeld, who brokered a deal with the Children's Heart Center and the Sunrise Children's Hospital in Las Vegas to perform surgery on Vy, has gone back to the Nevada heart group and hospital.
They have agreed to donate their staff and facilities once again.
Because of the severity of the ailment, however, time is short. Grossfeld says the hope is to have Socheat in the U.S. and operated on within a month or two.
"We don't want to wait any longer than necessary," Grossfeld said.
It also has to be determined if the child is healthy enough to travel.
Hearts Without Boundaries is rallying to prepare and pay for travel documents, arrange lodging and find funding for Socheat and her mother to come to the U.S.
Hearts Without Boundaries founder Peter Chhun, who is still in Cambodia, was thrilled when told of the Las Vegas offer.
"I am so excited, I don't know if I will be able to sleep tonight," Chhun said via phone from Cambodia.
Anyone interested in donating to Hearts Without Boundaries for Socheat can find information on-line at heartswithoutboundaries.org.