June 29, 2005

Doctors at Mount Sinai Help Mother and Daughter Burned with Acid in Cambodia

NY1 News
June 29, 2005

They’re thousands of miles from home, but a mother and daughter from Cambodia are surrounded by love and help here in the city. NY1’s Rebecca Spitz filed this report.

Not even one year old, tiny Sopham has been through more than most adults have. Eight months ago in her native Cambodia, she and her mother were attacked by a woman who doused them with acid.

The incident left them both with extensive injuries.

“In the case of Sopham the acid had burned through the eye,” says Dr. Ebbi Elahi of Mt. Sinai Hospital. “It had perforated through the eye and some of the ocular contents had come out.”

Dr. Elahi first met Sopham last year on a trip to Cambodia. Moved by her story and need for help, he returned to New York with a mission.

Before long, he’d arranged for team of doctors to operate free of charge on Sopham and her young mother, Yem, who spoke with NY1 Wednesday through an interpreter.

“[I] feel real good inside,” says Yem.

Yem and her daughter had months of rehabilitation, and each had two reconstructive surgeries. For the baby, they included creating a new eyelid, a new pupil, and cornea repair to save her sight.

But the surgeries weren’t the only difficult part of this case. Doctors say there were emotional issues that needed work too.

“When I first met Yem she was in the corner of the floor and not communicating. She wasn’t touching her baby,” says Dr. Elahi. “In the last month and a half since their surgeries she’s been able to hold the baby, play with the baby and use her arms. They’ve been able to bond.”

Helping that bond is a surrogate grandmother who has been feeding and changing the baby while Yem heals.

“[I] feel real happy when [I] see my child being able to see and move around,” says Yem.

And that is exactly what doctors were hoping for.

“I don’t think you ever recover to your pre-injury state. I don’t think that’s possible,” says Dr. Elahi. “But you could have a semblance of a normal life and be able to function somewhat in society.” Yem and Sopham will return to Cambodia July 18th, but say they will never forget their experience here, nor will their doctors soon forget them.

– Rebecca Spitz

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