Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong came late for our reunion today. She performed three operations this morning, and the last one was a bit difficult, she told me.
“But doctor Phuong. At our last reunion 10 years ago you told me you would retire soon!” I said to her.
“I am 78 now, so I only accept complicated cases,” she explained today.
Since 1969, Dr. Phuong has assisted thousands of Vietnamese women with abnormal pregnancies. Today, I gave her this beautiful portrait of herself by photographer Ole Johnny Soerensen, from my first interview with her in 1984.
I have never been able to put behind me the unspeakable nightmare she was dealing with: Young pregnant women dying on her day after day in the Tu Du Hospital, because of their exposure to Agent Orange. Two young girls in each bed, and sometimes another two girls on a mattress below the beds.
These days, the nightmare has become sort of manageable. “We have very advanced equipment now, so we can detect abnormal foetus at a very early stage with a much better chance of saving lives,” Dr. Phuong says.
Over the years, she has taken the agony of the Agent Orange victims to the US congress, often accompanied by her adopted daughter Hoan, who was born with no legs below the knees and one hand only.
Much has happened since the first time we met. In those days the US government denied all allegations from Dr. Phuong and her colleagues as communist propaganda.
In the past decade, the US have donated as much as USD 400 million to the clean-up of Agent Orange contaminated sites. And more funds are on the way.
“We do need more funds,” says Dr. Phuong. “We need support for 2nd and 3rd generation victims. We want to create jobs for victims, who can work in spite of their disabilities. I want to help them to get married as well to have a normal life to the extent possible.”
Let us give it up for Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong, a true heroine for us all.