Tonawanda News — KENMORE — Phan Thi Ha, a Vietnamese woman who is visiting the United States for the first time, will look and feel a lot different when she returns home — all thanks to the generosity of others.
Until Wednesday, Ha, 26, had a large, plexiform nerve-tumor on the left side of her face that caused hearing problems and pain. With both of her parents deceased, Ha, who is homeless, didn’t have the funds to arrange for the surgery or transportation from her small village. As the years passed and the tumor grew, there was little hope she’d ever be able to have it removed.
“She had low confidence, she has been shy,” a Vietnamese translator, Cathy Le, who was helping Ha, said Wednesday.
But that all changed when the local Hope for Tomorrow organization, which works to perform operations on disadvantaged patients from other countries, offered her a free operation and trip to Western New York.
Dr. Jeffrey Meilman, the chair of the board for Hope for Tomorrow, along with Dr. Federico Doldan, performed a four-hour surgery Wednesday at Kenmore Mercy Hospital to remove the tumor.
“She has dealt with this her whole life, and has been shunned by society,” Meilman said before the operation. “She has been living at a Buddhist temple, doing menial tasks to support herself ... but when she goes back home, she will look much more normal, and may be able to take better care of herself.”
Before the operation, Ha said she was nervous, but excited.
“She knows it’s going to be wonderful,” Le said. “It’s just unexpected, something she never dreamed of.”
Ha is staying with local Vietnamese families during her stay in Buffalo — a city that feels very large and bustling compared to her small, rural village. The families have volunteered to host her and take care of her following the operation.
“They have been just wonderful .... they have taken her to Niagara Falls, bought her clothing and welcomed her warmly,” Meilman said.
Without the Hope For Tomorrow, which has donated more than 3,000 surgeries so far, the operation would have cost $60,000.
“We are grateful that we are able to do this and take time off from our practices,” Meilman said, speaking for the 20 area doctors that have donated their time as part of the group. “This will give me and Dr. Doldan a lot of pleasure to help her significantly.”
Kenmore Mercy has hosted dozens of children and young adults from third world countries who need surgery. The hospital donated the operating room, supplies, post-surgical care and other professional staff members.
“This work that Dr. Meilman is doing is very consistent with the mission of Kenmore Mercy Hospital,” President and CEO Jim Millard said.
Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley.