Cleft lip kids pay a big price in Vietnam.

I’ve benefitted from the Vietnam War. Because western doctors operated on innumerable cleft lip and palate kids during and after the war, they learned how to deal with the cartilage of the cleft nose. (More about this in my next blog.)
In my 40s, I had my final cleft surgeries . . . on my “smushed down”  nostril it turns out, in a bid to become a bit more facially symmetrical. The first surgery: Fail, big time. Even with a temporary stent in the nostril to keep the cartilage from reverting to its smushed state, the surgeon failed to improve my nose.

The surgeon did have the confidence and character to refer me to a surgeon who’d learned how to “handle” cartilage as a result of all the Vietnam surgeries. This surgeon’s work on my nostril was a success, tho I exchanged a smushed down nostril for a nose that shifts to the left overall. A good tradeoff the surgeon said at the time, and I agree wholeheartedly now. 


Scars of Vietnam War, 40 years on.

The Vietnam War wasn’t so fortuitous for four-year-old Dang Hong Dan. He bears the literal scars of the Vietnam War that came to an end 40 years ago, causing emotional scars within the US that may never go away.

According to a recent article in the UK’s “Gazette & Herald,” Dang was one of many thousands of children who have suffered because their relatives were exposed to Agent Orange, a lethal toxin, during the war. Agent Orange is such a toxic chemical that even a tiny amount can cause various diseases and birth defects down the road. Besides being born with a cleft lip, Dang has a deformed hand and foot.


Dang Hong Dan is four years old but he bears the scars of the Vietnam war that came to an end 40 years ago (Unicef/PA)

Others besides cleft lip kids pay a big price.

During the war, America sprayed 20 million gallons of the herbicide Agent Orange—in addition to other herbicide and defoliant mixtures— over vast areas in south and central Vietnam. Our country did this between 1961 and 1971 to destroy crops, defoliate forests, and clear the perimeters of military installations.

The article makes further points:

—”[The suffering of Dang and others like him] extends even further as children with disabilities have been among the most stigmatized and excluded people in Vietnam.  They face significant challenges in their daily lives – including discrimination [and] limited access to basic health care, education, and other public services.

—Many are abandoned and at risk of violence, and are placed in institutions which do not provide adequate care and support.

—[For this reason] UNICEF has been working to strengthen the legal framework in Vietnam that should protect children with disabilities and help provide  [them] better services.

—Since the war ended the soil dioxin concentration in the sprayed areas has started to recede…but sites where the herbicides were stored or handled are still highly contaminated, notably former military air bases. 

—In these areas, dioxin that entered the soil is migrating slowly, especially through organic materials to which it binds, and is getting into food chains… [Local people are still being exposed, for example, by eating local fish and fowl. This means the work charities like UNICEF do with those affected by Agent Orange may continue for years to come.”


To learn about CLEFT HEART: Chasing Normal, click the Amazon or Barnes & Noble buttons in the margins. Or click the image of the book cover. My coming-of-age memoir has intertwining love stories, mystery, tragedy, and triumph.

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