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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dear sirs and madams,

This letter is being sent to two prominent Khmer news blogs, as well as copied to various other Cambodian news sources for their information. Please forward to any others who may be interested -- I am just a barang who loves Cambodia, and I am not very familiar with all the sites read by Khmer people.



I would be grateful if you could publish the below, along with the attached photo of my friend at home in Han Chey village (pictured above).


By Ben Weston

 Recurring frequently in comments on this site is the idea that the Vietnamese people are working to kill or enslave Cambodians. It is difficult to support such a blanket and frightening assertion, yet the conduct of the Vietnamese-supported Hun Sen government towards its own people, the rapacity of Vietnamese corporations in the country, and baldly ill-intentioned actions such as their providing free Vietnamese-monitored Metfone cellphones to all ranking Cambodian military officers provide some glimpse into an unpleasant Yuon attitude towards the Khmer people.

 I am writing today to provide readers with another piece of evidence which weighs heavily against the neighbors to the East. Four years ago, I met and fell in love with a Khmer schoolteacher in Kampong Cham province. Although we never married (because of unforeseen difficulties with finances, family, and immigration laws), we remained close. In December of last year, on the advice of Vietnamese doctors in Saigon, she went to a clinic operated by Vietnamese doctors in Phnom Penh. She went in for minor surgery to correct a nasal problem common to many Khmer people called "roleak chamoh." She came out with severe brain damage that left her in a coma for a month, and thereafter unable to move any part of her body, see or speak. The Vietnamese doctors came out with more than $9,000.

 My friend died on Monday this week, after suffering horribly for almost seven months. I spent five of those months with her and her family, at hospitals in Kampong Cham and Phnom Penh and at her family's home in the countryside, where she spent the last four months of her life -- unable to move, being fed through a tube, moaning in agony through many nights. I am writing today because she is not alone. I am writing because while I was in Cambodia I heard again and again about young, healthy Khmer people who had been killed or left brain-damaged by incompetent and greedy Vietnamese doctors. I am writing because the Cambodian government does not protect its people from these predators, and it does not punish the blood-drenched murderers after they kill. This has been for too long a silent story. I can only try to give it a voice.

 Like most Khmer people, my friend usually knew better than to trust the Yuon. But a cousin of hers worked at a Yuon clinic in Phnom Penh, and, when my friend spoke to her cousin about nose problems, the relative told her that she could go easily into Vietnam and get a diagnosis from international-level doctors in Saigon. She was duped. She went. When she came back, she had agreed to undergo surgery in Phnom Penh at the Yuon clinic. She told me about her plan by e-mail, and I begged her not to get surgery on their advice, to get a second opinion and talk to other doctors first. Fatally, she never did.


 On December 1st, she went down to Phnom Penh, and stayed the night with her cousin. She went to the clinic on the early afternoon of the 2nd, and underwent the surgery to correct her roleak chamoh condition. As best as we can make out -- the Yuon doctors and their lackey staff refused to provide any information at all afterwards -- after the surgery she was wheeled out of the room, and left alone, forgotten. When her cousin finally went to check on her, my friend was unconscious and not breathing. She was immediately evacuated by the Yuons to Saigon, where at a Yuon hospital she was intubated and given a tracheostomy, to allow clear breathing. For the surgery, evacuation, and emergent care, the Yuon doctors were given roughly 9,000 USD by her family (poor farmers). That's rather a massive profit for a day's incompetence.

 My friend remained comatose as the family returned her to Phnom Penh, where she was given a CT brain scan and instructions for care. She was then sent to the Kampong Cham provincial hospital, where the doctors and staff were unable to do anything but monitor her vital signs and administer antibiotics and the like. Her family fed her, suctioned mucus from the trach hole, and kept a constant watch over her, sleeping on the floor of the shared hospital room at night. She regained sleep and wake cycles, but remained largely unresponsive and her entire body was clenched in pain.

 Delayed by the Western holidays and by misinformation (I had been wrongly told that she had been taken home to die two weeks earlier), I arrived to the Kampong Cham provincial hospital on the evening of January 2nd. I spent the next month arguing with doctors and bureaucrats, surreptitiously reading sealed medical records, and directing and paying for her care in Kampong Cham and at Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh. From there, the story is a familiar one to anyone whose loved ones have suffered a serious trauma or disease -- many emergencies and setbacks, slow progress, every day a battle to keep her alive and push for improvement. I left at the end of April, confident that her family could continue her care as well as I would be able. Two weeks ago, I received news that her family was exclusively feeding her by mouth, no longer using her PEG stomach line as we had done while I was there. I have not been given the exact details of her death, as I do not want to know them, but I understand that she may have suffocated from problems swallowing food.

 What happened this week was only a straw on the back of a broken camel. My friend was really killed on December 2, 2012, by Vietnamese greed, mendacity, and incompetence. Many other Khmers have been killed by the same forces. And I for one hope that the community of victims will begin to speak out and, at the least, spread the word that Vietnamese doctors are never to be trusted. Please help some good result from this terrible tragedy. Please share your stories, and hers.


 For more information or to donate to her family in Kampong Cham province (Kampong Siem district, Han Chey village), you can contact the author of this letter at benweston at mail dot com (benweston@mail.com).

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