Transforming life of Vietnamese child
  • | Buffalo News | October 18, 2010 11:33 PM

Nguyen Hu, 4, is joined by, from left, father Nguyen Cong Dam and Drs. Jeffrey Mellman, Jack Huebschmann and Federico Doldan at a restaurant celebration of his reconstructive facial surgery.
Robert Kirkham / Buffalo News

Four-year-old Nguyen Cong Huu of Vietnam may be little, but he’s a walking miracle.

The boy, who traveled in late September with his father from their Ho Chi Minh City home to Buffalo, had a big party Sunday to celebrate his new look following donated surgery at Mount St. Mary’s Hospital in Lewiston.

It was no ordinary surgery to basically remove and reconstruct half of his face.

His healing face — with a few small areas of new skin already peeking through the scabs — was full of smiles Sunday night, in stark contrast to what he looked like just three weeks ago.

“I want to be normal and be back in school,” Huu said through translation from his Vietnamese host mother, Huong Le of East Amherst.

His father, who quit his job as a safety officer so he could accompany his son to the United States, was grateful to the surgeons and hospital for their skills and help.

“I think my child will feel more confident and happy to become a normal child,” said Nguyen Cong Dam.

Selected by the Hope for Tomorrow Foundation last summer to have his face reconstructed, Huu endured four hours of surgery to have a large, congenital, hairy nevus — resembling a giant wart covered with black hair — removed from his face. The tumor, which had actually covered his right eye, was one that could have become cancerous if left untreated.

It was a procedure that his family could not afford and one that likely could not have been performed there. Doctors billed the surgery as a huge success. The darkness on his face will resolve over the next six weeks as scabs come off and new skin emerges.

“That’s the silver lining in the clouds. His healing will be so much better because he is younger,” said his anesthesiologist, Dr. Jack Huebschmann. “He had a treatable condition and was [otherwise] healthy.”

Already at age 4, Huu felt the emotional pain that came with his tumor.

“He started school last year. He went one day, and the kids called him black face, and he never went back to school,” said Dr. Jeffrey G. Meilman, the chief plastic surgeon for Huu and founder of Hope for Tomorrow. “He’ll be almost normal and go back to school and start living a normal life again. That’s a huge thing to change a kid’s life.”

“Almost half of his face was removed and resurfaced from his abdomen,” Meilman said. “He’s doing fine. He’s got a full take of his reconstructive grafts.”

After a three-day hospital stay, Huu and his father, Nguyen Cong Dam, have been living with Huong and Dinh Le in East Amherst. Huu and his father leave for home Tuesday. “It’s been such a wonderful experience. He was very strong and brave,” Huong Le said.

Mount St. Mary’s Hospital said that it was excited to help in such an effort. “This is the first time we’ve had [such] a patient come to us,” said Judith A. Maness, hospital CEO. “This fits with our mission.”

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