Baby dumped in plastic bag in Vietnam turns one month old at Singapore hospital

(From left) Venerable Minh Tai 41, abbot of Hue Quang Monastery in Da Lat City with baby Trieu Hoai An and assistant nun Thien Ngo, 24.
(From left) Venerable Minh Tai 41, abbot of Hue Quang Monastery in Da Lat City with baby Trieu Hoai An and assistant nun Thien Ngo, 24.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - A month-old baby girl beat the odds after being left for dead in Vietnam last month and is recovering at a Singapore hospital.

Trieu Hoai An, who turned one month old on Wednesday (April 24), was found in a plastic bag hanging from a tree in a coffee plantation by a farmer who heard her crying.

He took her to a Da Lat City hospital in Vietnam's Lam Dong province, about 300km north-east of Ho Chi Minh City, on March 29.

Doctors there estimated that she had been abandoned for four or five days.

The baby was sunburnt and had numerous insect bites. She had a festering wound in her badly swollen head and squirming maggots were found in her eyes and nose.

The doctors said there was little they could do and gave her less than a year to live.

With no known family, the baby was adopted by the abbess Trieu Thi Thien Kim of the Hue Quang temple near Da Lat and was named Hoai An.

The 41-year-old abbess, who is also known as the Venerable Minh Tai, raised about $25,000 within days from people all over Vietnam through the temple's charity networks and social media.

With the money, she was able to take Hoai An to Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Orchard Road for further treatment.

The funds were enough to cover Hoai An's first eight days of treatment, said Venerable Minh Tai.

"We have raised another $10,000 since then. Hopefully, we will be able to raise more money from donors in Vietnam and around the world in the next few weeks."

When Hoai An was admitted on April 10, she had a high fever and the tissue in her head wound had also become necrotic, putting her at risk of infection.

Dr Tang Kok Kee, the neurosurgeon who treated Hoai An, said the swelling of her head was not life-threatening. He explained that the condition - known as hydrocephalus - is fairly common, especially in premature babies.

Before attempting to drain the excess fluid, Dr Tang decided to treat Hoai An's wounds to reduce the chance of infection. He recommended that the baby be fed human milk, provided by donors here, to boost her immune system.

In the two weeks since she was admitted, Hoai An has recovered remarkably quickly, Dr Tang said. He managed to drain some of the fluid from her head twice, resulting in improvements each time.

Venerable Minh Tai said: "She is sleeping better, crying louder and has more of an appetite. She has also gained about 700g in weight and her reactions are improved."

Dr Tang added that Hoai An's wounds are also healing faster than expected.

"I wouldn't write her off at this point, that would be wrong. There is a chance her prognosis will improve," he said.

But Hoai An is not out of danger yet. Dr Tang said it is not yet possible to say for sure if she just has hydrocephalus or the rarer and more serious condition known as hydraencephaly, which is when parts of the brain's cerebral hemispheres are absent entirely.

Infants with this condition generally do not live past a year, Dr Tang said.

A computed tomography (CT) scan done on Hoai An came back inconclusive with no visible brain tissue because of the amount of fluid in her head. Dr Tang said more fluid will need to be drained before a proper diagnosis can be made.

At a "day thang" (full month in Vietnamese) party on Wednesday organised by the hospital's staff, Venerable Minh Tai and her disciple Thien Ngo, a 24-year-old nun from Laos, recited Buddhist sutras and prayed for blessings and fortune for Hoai An.

The celebration is customarily organised by a baby's parents to mark her first month of life.

Venerable Minh Tai said she hoped to bring Hoai An back to Vietnam once she recovers and raise her with the other 10 orphan children being taken care of at her temple.

"We won't give up on her. With the support of the donors, I have faith that her illness can be cured."