Monday, November 21, 2011

Abnormal babies and the pain from Tu Du Obstetrics Hospital

Some foreign officials used to claim that information about aftermaths of dioxin in Vietnam is a complete fabrication. However, when they saw babies at HCM City’s Tu Du Obstetrics Hospital, many of them busted into tears.

A hundred glass jars containing deformed newborn babies of all types are put on shelves, which are attached to the four walls of a small room in Tu Du Hospital’s Hoa Binh Village, in District 1, HCM City. These babies are different from each others but they have one common thing: They are freaks who were born by mothers who come from dioxin-infected regions in Vietnam. These babies are preserved by the hospital to serve scientific research.

Secret of nameless ‘mummies’

Doctor Phuong Tan, director of the Hoa Binh village (where takes care of over 60 disabled people, most of them being Agent Orange victims), positively refused reporters’ request to take a look at the above room. She said that this room is only opened for scientists or special guests. However, reporters could approach this room after fulfilling compulsory procedures.

In this small room, nearly 100 deformed newborn babies are kept in small jars, arranged close together on shelves on the four walls. They like small hosts who are curious seeing strangers. All of them are nameless. The only information noted on jars is the name and hometown of the mother, the year the baby being brought to the room. Some jars do not have any information.

The oldest jar was brought to this room around a half of century ago and the youngest jar is around ten years ago. All employees at the Hoa Binh village do not know about information of these babies. Doctor Phuong Tan said that when she began managing the village, including this room, she did not see any document about freaks there. She only knew that these freaks have been preserved there before 1975, the country’s unification year.

This room sometimes opens for scientists and international visitors who research or are interested in AO victims and Vietnamese AO victims’ lawsuit against American chemical firms, who provided dioxin to US soldiers in the Vietnam War. She said that Hero of Labor, former director of Tu Du Hospital, Doctor Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong is the one who knows clearly about this room.

Seeking the origin of a room

Doctor Phuong has retired but she is always busy with running a big private hospital and being a special guest of difficult cases at hospitals in HCM City. The author of this article could meet the doctor at her home, after 8pm.

Doctor Phuong said that her day began with an operation at 7.30am and closed with the 8th operation. She had to move from hospital to hospital. Phuong was very tired but speaking about freaks at the Hoa Binh village, her memory was awakened.

At that time, doctor Phuong was just admitted to the Obstetrics Ward of Tu Du Hospital and she immediately performed a very difficult delivery. A young woman from Bien Hoa was in labor for a day and finally, she delivered a baby. Doctor Phuong was dumbstruck when she saw the baby on her hands. The small body was hairy and did not have a skull.

Seeing the baby, the mother was shocked and became crazy. In the next several days, doctor Phuong vomited everything she ate.

Phuong knew that after leaving the hospital, the parents of the young mother’s husband forced their son to divorce his wife but that man loved his wife so he did not accept his parent’s request. One year later, they saw doctor Phuong again. The young woman was always panic because she was afraid that she would deliver another ‘monkey’. Luckily, the second delivery was normal.

Several years later, when she was familiar to deformed newborn babies, doctor Phuong noted that the number of freaks of all forms increased. Some days, the hospital had five or six deliveries of freaks.

The doctor asked herself, why there were so many freaks. She asked the hospital’s permission to preserve freaks as specimens. She only kept special freaks, with information about the name of the mothers and their hometowns.

After the country was unified in 1975, some American veterans visited Tu Du hospital to discuss the impacts of weed killer. Phuong participated in this meeting.

From that meeting, Phuong began seeking information about weed killer and found out that in the Vietnam War, the US sprayed large volumes of weed killer in many regions in Vietnam. People who live in these regions can be affected by toxic chemicals to deliver freaks.

Making comparison of the regions where the US sprayed weed killer with the hometowns of the women who delivered freaks at Tu Du Hospital, doctor Phuong was stunned to see that most of these women lived in these regions.

Doctor Phuong continued searching documents, files and going to these regions to collect more information about victims. She made statistics about these cases and sent a report to HCM City authorities.

In 1979, the HCM City People’s Committee instructed the Department of Agriculture-Forestry, the Department of Health, the Department of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs and the Women’s Union to work on the issue. Doctor Phuong was invited to Hanoi to join the National Committee for Dioxin Research.

In 1983, an international meeting on weed killer used by the US army in the Vietnam War was held, with the participation of representatives from 22 countries. The meeting concluded that the weed killer destroyed the environment and caused long-term consequences on local people. In 1987, a similar international meeting was held. Doctor Phuong read a report about the aftermaths of dioxin, with freaks preserved at Tu Du hospital as evidences.

Tears of common sense at the US Lower House

In 1989, after paying a visit to Tu Du hospital, the Vietnam-Germany Friendship Association funded the construction of the Hoa Binh village for disabled children who are victims of the Vietnam War. Freaks that were preserved in a warehouse were removed to a small room in the village to serve research. Many international delegations visited the room.

Doctor Phuong said that many people, mainly officials of some countries who claimed that information about dioxin’s aftermaths in Vietnam was a fabrication, busted into tears when they visited this room and saw disabled kids, victims of dioxin, at the Hoa Binh village.

Doctor Phuong Tan, who is in charge of managing this room now, said that a Japanese scientist doubted that freaks in this room were fake, so he asked to inspect some jars. After that, he busted into sob and said that the war tragedy in Vietnam is more devastating than in Japan.

With scientific research works and evidences about the disastrous consequences of dioxin on Vietnamese people, arguments to deny war crime, including the use of weed killer in Vietnam, have been smashed.

In July 2010, doctor Phuong and some victims of dioxin participated in the third hearing on dioxin/AO at the US Lower House. The story of victim Nguyen Thi Hoan and doctor Phuong about freaks who were delivered at Tu Du Hospital, and in many regions in Vietnam made many people cry.

Those who caused the dioxin disaster in Vietnam had to admit their crime and committed to compensate $30 million for AO victims.

According to doctor Phuong, to deal with dioxin’s aftermaths, it is not only needing modern equipment to help mothers early detect of freaks, but also research works and detoxification of dioxin-infected areas.

These tasks need a lot of money. The $30 million is not enough but it can partly console victims, particularly victims who were born as freaks at the small room of Hoa Binh village, Tu Du Hospital.