Commentary: Mr. Nguyễn Duy Hải, 33, is worldwide known as the man with 200 lbs tumor. This week marks the first anniversary of the successful resection of the giant tumor by performed Dr. McKay McKinnon on Jan 5, 2012. His case has gained worldwide attention and interest thanks to his optimistic spirit and shinning smile despite life adversity. Through this blog’s readers, he is really admired as Man of the Year 2012.
The operation to remove a 90kg (roughly 200lb) tumor from Mr. Nguyễn Duy Hảione year ago has been hailed as a new landmark in treating life-threatening tumor cases in Vietnam by world medical experts.
It also grabbed headlines at a large number of big international news agencies. But, though he is enjoying the happy moments of the miraculous recovery, Hai faces a tough road ahead.
On an afternoon in late December, shivering in the cold weather, we went down a small alley in the central highlands city of Da Lat to visit Hai and his mother. The low temperature outside was partly driven away by the laughs of the mother and son while they watched a TV comedy show.
1st footstep on road in 12 years
Have you ever imagined that you can breathe, eat and laugh but are unable to leave the house because of the weight of a tumor? Hai suffered from this exact situation for over 10 years. “When I was 21 years old and the tumor weighed 20kg, passers-by often starred at me whenever I went outside. So I stopped going out. But since the surgery, people look at me differently, and some have even tried to chase after me only to ask, ‘How are you?’” Hai said.
The 33-year-old man now looks much thinner than when he was discharged from FV hospital 6 months ago, and his skin is tanned because he often spends time hanging out with friends.
After being disconnected from the outside world for so long, Hai went to his hometown’s center, where his vision was flooded by the beautiful surroundings, as if he taking his first steps in the area. He has also felt the soft earth under his left foot for the first time in years.
“The last time I was outside, the Sammy Hotel was just an old warehouse, the Saigon-Da Lat hotel was under construction, Xuan Huong Lake surrounded by wild grass. But now all of them look splendid,” Hai recalled.
On the first day that I walked around on my remaining leg thanks to a mobile walker after being discharged from hospital, I found everything around me very strange, as if I had returned to Da Lat after living in a forest for a very long time.
As for Hai, it is more important that he is now back to normal activities like taking a bath.
“It is an incomparable joy that he can take care of personal hygiene by himself. Doctors at FV hospital (FVH) examined him in November and concluded that there is no sign of the tumor returning,” 63-year-old Nguyen Thi Cho Con, Hai’s mother, happily said.
Hai now begins a new day by waking up at 7am and having coffee with neighboring friends. Every two or three days, his friends give him a ride downtown to get some fresh air. At night, he watches TV with his mom.
New Year wishes
Since leaving FV, Hai is still regularly re-examined by doctors, and his progress is followed by kind hearts both here in Vietnam and abroad who offered their assistance to his surgery.
Dr. Phan Van Thai at FVH, who recently re-examined Hai, told Tuoi Tre: “Hai’s general health condition is better than it was 6 months ago when he left the hospital. CT scan results showed that there is no symptom of the tumor returning.”
Hai never stops being grateful to these people. When talking about the operation, he repeatedly mentioned the word “miracle,” because thanks to a “miracle” he can think of the future.
However, his joy-filled period of time only lasted for 4 months, until he recognized that he is not capable of pursuing his favorite occupation in order to feed himself.
Two months ago, when his incisions were fully healed, Hai was eager to learn to repair cell phones. A kind cell phone shop owner nearby agreed to train him free of charge and encouraged him to study well. But Hai quit just a few days into training since his hands shook uncontrollably whenever he held a tiny item like a screw.
“I’m very upset and discouraged because I am not able to repair phones – a job I like very much. I really want a job because I don’t want to live on my sister’s money,” Hai shared.
His second wish, to travel to the US get a prosthetic leg so he could integrate into the community, also faded away as the invitation letter of Amanda Schumacher – founder of The Tree Of Life Foundation – and the guarantee letter of Dr. McKinnon were not enough convince the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City to grant him a visa.
Hai plans to open a small grocery, but he admitted that this is also a real challenge. “A woman who is sympathetic to my circumstances let me rent her house to open a grocery at a ‘friendship’ price but I don’t know how to get money to buy goods,” he shared.
However, whether he is able to open a shop or not, Hai said he is still satisfied with his current life, and finds that he is more fortunate than many others.
“A young girl in Hanoi who carries a 20kg tumor on her back recently phoned me asking for my help. I felt sorry for her but I did not know how to help. Afterwards, I gave her the contact info of Tina Nguyen from “Miracle Workers”, and do hope that Dr. McKinnon will come back to Vietnam to operate on her and other Vietnamese patients like he did on me,” he said with a smile.
“Don’t lose hope even in the worst situations and opportunities will come to you,” Hai concluded.
Dr. McKinnon: I hope to return to Vietnam
American plastic surgeon McKay McKinnon, who was the main surgeon for Nguyen Duy Hai’s operation on January 5, 2012 at HCMC-based FV hospital, shares his thoughts with Tuoitrenews on the first anniversary of the historic surgery:
I am delighted to know that there is recovery without a tumor recurrence for Mr. Hai. His was a very rare case of a life-threatening tumor. I wish him continued success at achieving his goal of a productive life. This was the planned and expected outcome, however. Thanks to the excellent partnership with FVH, this can be the normal outcome even for these complex cases.
The recent findings at FVH on Mr. Hai are the same results of nearly all of my patients with Neurofibromatosis, I am grateful to be able to say. I do not expect a recurrence of this tumor, although it is a possibility. The reason that the tumors do not recur, in my opinion, is that the tumor has been radically resected from its source, and its enormous blood supply has been cut off.
Clearly there are many suffering patients in Vietnam and elsewhere with this and other supposedly “inoperable” tumors. I hope to return to offer my assistance to some of these patients, but that will also require the assistance of people in Vietnam who are supportive of this goal. I certainly look forward to revisiting the patients like Mr. Hai who have been operated and following firsthand their progress. There is reason for hope for them, but it can’t happen without a lot of hard work from many people. My thanks to FVH and Cho Ray Hospital in Vietnam for their past support and excellent collaboration.