Viet boy turns to Singapore for eye op

Mr Tran Ngoc Dung has been caring for his son, Tran Ngoc Chien, together with an elderly neighbour since his wife left the family when the boy was 17 months old. Chien suffers from corneal damage and glaucoma.
Mr Tran Ngoc Dung has been caring for his son, Tran Ngoc Chien, together with an elderly neighbour since his wife left the family when the boy was 17 months old. Chien suffers from corneal damage and glaucoma.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

S'porean starts online appeal to raise $8,700 for surgery to improve 6-year-old's condition

Vietnamese Tran Ngoc Chien, six, cannot see clearly, let alone read. All he sees are light and shadows.

He and his father are here to seek medical treatment for corneal damage - which has turned his corneas cloudy - and glaucoma, a condition where high fluid pressure in the eyes damages the optic nerves, causing gradual loss of sight.

Singaporean project manager Adam Chua, 36, set up a crowdfunding appeal page on the Give.Asia website yesterday to raise about $8,700 for a laser operation scheduled today at the Singapore National Eye Centre. Mr Chua's Vietnamese wife, administration executive Lisa Nguyen, 34, had learnt of the boy's condition through her friend.

Professor Donald Tan from the centre told The Straits Times: "The operation is optional and would not restore vision, but would help reduce the eye pressure and the size of his eyeballs. Without the operation, the eye pressure would continue to be high and the eyeballs could become bigger and more unsightly."

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He said corneal transplants would not be useful to treat Chien's corneal damage, as he "already has very low visual potential from birth due to his congenital eye defects".

ST interviewed the Vietnamese father-son pair yesterday, with Ms Nguyen helping to translate as the father, Mr Tran Ngoc Dung, 36, does not speak English.

 

His wife had come down with rubella, a viral infection, when she was two months pregnant.

Chien was born prematurely at 7½ months with various medical conditions, including eye defects and heart problems. Chien's mother found it too difficult to care for him, and left the family when he was 17 months old.

Since then, Mr Dung, an odd-job labourer, and an 80- year-old neighbour have been taking turns caring for him, as Mr Dung does not have other family members to turn to.

He explained that his son's eyes had not been treated earlier as the heart problems had to be treated first - Chien went for an operation only last year, after a Vietnamese company donated money - and doctors in Vietnam could not help to address the eye conditions.

Earlier this year, Ms Nguyen's Vietnamese friend, who lives near the father-son pair, told her about their plight. The pair then applied for their passports, arrived here on May 15, and have been going for several check-ups. They are staying at her Hougang home for now.

"I have only one child. If I don't care for him, other people may just let him die and, indirectly, I'd be killing him," said Mr Dung.

"I'm very happy that he can be treated here. I hope he can still, at least, continue seeing lights and shadows."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2017, with the headline 'Viet boy turns to S'pore for eye op'. Print Edition | Subscribe