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From Vietnam to Boston – the Road to Life-Changing Burn Care

With help from a network of supporters, a patient with severe burns was transported from Vietnam to the Boston Shriners Hospital for care.

Meet Trang

16-year-old Trang has traveled a very long way to receive care at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Boston, almost 9,000 miles. It is a journey she would willingly make over and over, one that brings tears of gratitude for the life-altering burn care that has changed the course of her recovery after a catastrophic accident.

Trang grew up in Vietnam with her older brother and sister, mother, late father and grandparents filling her busy, happy home. When she was 10 years old, a neighbor was grilling squid in the yard, using pure alcohol as fuel, which is customary in Trang’s small hometown. The liquid accidentally splashed onto Trang’s face and body. There was a flash flame and her body caught on fire. Her mother, Sen, jumped in to save Trang by wrapping her arms around her in a bear hug. When the flames were out, the family immediately brought her to the nearest hospital, where Trang stayed for nine days with minimal care.

Knowing that she needed advanced medical intervention, Trang's family requested a transfer to Le Huu Trac National Institute of Burns in Vietnam. She was hospitalized for three months and had numerous surgeries including incisions and grafting to her face, thigh and hands. Over the next five years, Trang would have over ten surgeries to help heal her wounds. However, the hospitals in her home country have limited resources and burn care expertise. Trang and her family knew that she needed more specialized care to address mobility and functionality limitations caused by her wounds and scarring. Trang’s sister made it her mission to help her younger sister. Her research led her to a network of angels, and ultimately to the Boston Shriners Hospital. Thao is one of those angels who stepped up when Trang and her family needed it.

Meet Thao

In 1990, Thao fled Vietnam with her aunt when she too was just 16. Her aunt went to Australia, and Thao came to the United States by herself. She had no family, nor did she know anyone when she arrived. Landing eventually in Massachusetts, Thao went on to graduate from high school and college. But she never forgot those still living in her home country, especially children facing serious medical challenges with little or no resources.

Thao knew there had to be a way to help. Knowing the power of social media, Thao turned to Facebook, seeking children in need of life-changing medical care and building a network of supporters from Massachusetts to New York and as far away as Australia. When Trang’s sister reached out for help, Thao set things in motion to bring Trang to the Boston Shriners Hospital. She contacted New York physician Dustin Nguyen, M.D., who quickly answered the call, sponsoring Trang’s journey to Boston.

Healing begins at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Boston

Trang and Sen arrived in Boston in November of 2019. The pair met with care manager Sandra Barrett, RN, and Richard J. Ehrlichman, M.D., who outlined a care plan of reconstructive and laser surgeries to improve Trang’s functionality and appearance. Thao was their valued advocate, attending appointments and helping them navigate this new world.

Just a month later, Dr. Ehrlichman performed Trang’s first surgery on her right hand and lower lip. Two subsequent surgeries in February and June focused on her arms, left hand and upper lip. Most recently in August, Trang had laser surgery to separate her fingers that were fused by scars. She described how physical and occupational therapy have given her the freedom to be more independent. When mother and daughter first arrived at the hospital, Sen told Sandy that she had to carry Trang on the back of her own bike to get her to school. Now, Trang will be able to do that herself! Trang is grateful for her favorite physical therapist, Jessica. They spend a lot of time together in rehabilitation, and Trang said Jessica makes her feels safe and strong.

Trang has a message for other patients facing devastating injuries like hers. “Try to do your best to overcome the situation. In Vietnam, we do not have these facilities. Here at Shriners Hospital everything is so modern and the doctors can help me heal. I don’t have to be afraid for the future. I can hope to have a better life and you can too.” Trang is deeply grateful to Thao and her sponsor, Dr. Nguyen, for making it possible for her to come to the Boston Shriners Hospital.

Sen echoed these thoughts. “Thank you, on behalf of my family, to the doctors, nurses, therapists and all the staff. Thank you to Thao and her organization. We deeply appreciate all that you have done to help Trang and our family,” she said.

Providing hope for more Vietnamese children

Trang and Sen expressed how much they hope that other children in Vietnam who are facing medical struggles can get help as well. With Thao and her network working tirelessly to this end, more children are being helped all the time. Over the past three years, Thao has helped bring six children to the U.S. for care. The nonprofit organization HEVY (Health & Education for Vietnamese Youth) sponsored five children, three who are patients at the Springfield Shriners Hospital; Dr. Nguyen sponsored Trang, and he continues to sponsor others. Vietnamese temples Lam Ty Ni Temple in Lawrence and Viet Nam Temple in Boston have been a big help to the children by providing housing, food and transportation. In addition, Thao’s organization recently built The House of Hopes and Miracles in Saigon, a place for kids to stay post-surgery that provides physical therapy and other supports. They are continuing to bring kids to the U.S. for care, and keeping close ties with the Boston Shriners Hospital so patients like Trang can experience new and wonderful outcomes. Vietnamese speakers can learn more about Thao’s organization.

Connected for life

It is clear to any observer that Trang, Sen and Thao have a beautiful connection that is sure to last a lifetime. Thao is driven to help others – from her unwavering passion to help kids from her native Vietnam to lending her expert sewing skills and donating hundreds of masks to Shriners Hospitals for Children — Boston and other hospitals. She is a staunch advocate for Trang who is forever grateful to this once stranger, now friend..

If you know a child in need of care for acute burn injury; plastic, reconstructive or laser surgery; or cleft lip and cleft palate care, please call 617-371-4843 for standard referrals or 844-8-LOVE-IS (844-856-8347) for urgent referrals.

Sen, Trang and Doctor Ehrlichman

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