This Baby Was Found In A Bag Tied To A Tree, And She Had A Head Wound Crawling With Maggots

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Upon hearing the faint sound of crying, the Vietnamese farmer decides that he must go and investigate the unnerving noise. His search leads him onto a coffee plantation, where he sees a plastic bag dangling from a tree. And when he peers inside, he finds a newborn baby in an awful state – with an injury that is truly horrifying.

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The Lam Dong province is situated in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. The area boasts a mix of mountains and forests which give the location a unique appearance. And it’s this spectacular scenery – which includes a heady mix of lakes, hills and waterfalls – that attracts visitors to the area, who come to seek out the region’s many beauty spots.

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For those who call the Lam Dong province home, work tends to revolve around farming. The area’s economy relies heavily on growing coffee, tea and vegetables. As of 2011 Lam Dong’s GDP was the equivalent of slightly less than $1 billion, and general levels of poverty still pose problems in the region.

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It’s not known if economic factors played a part in a tragic story which unfolded in Lam Dong province in 2019. For it was then that a little baby was found abandoned in the most harrowing of circumstances. And while poverty might not have been a factor in this infant’s situation, it’s certainly true to say that impoverishment contributes to child abandonment statistics in Vietnam.

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The newborn in question had been deserted by its parents in a coffee plantation in March. The tiny infant had been left dangling from a tree in a plastic bag and would have quickly perished had a passing farmer not heard her crying. She was suffering from sunburn and had sustained a number of insect bites. What’s more, her little head was significantly swollen and was also sporting a nasty wound.

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There was no telling exactly how long the baby had been there. However, estimates suggested that she was no more than five days old. It seemed that she had been abandoned with no regard for her survival. And by the time that the farmer found the child, maggots were already festering in her little eyes and nose as well as the gaping hole in her head.

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The farmer rushed the infant to the local hospital in Da Lat – the capital of the Lam Dong province. Once there, doctors cleaned the baby up and rid her of the maggots that were feeding off her tiny body. However, there was further bad news for the baby, as she was diagnosed as suffering from an inherited condition known as hydranencephaly.

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Hydranencephaly is very rare, occurring in fewer than one in 10,000 births throughout the world. The condition affects the central nervous system. Furthermore, symptoms can include fluid on the brain, a swollen head, blindness, paralysis and seizures. Heartbreakingly, the odds of survival for those born with hydranencephaly aren’t high: many die before reaching their first birthday.

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Indeed, doctors predicted the abandoned baby had less than a year to live. And what’s more, due to the small size of the hospital in Da Lat, there was little that its doctors could do to treat the child’s condition. With no known family, there was no one to care for the infant. In desperation, the hospital turned to Venerable Minh Tai, the head nun at the nearby Hue Quang monastery, for help.

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Tai was well known in Da Lat for her charitable endeavours. She had already provided care for ten orphans who ranged in age from babies to teenagers. And as soon as she heard about the abandoned infant, she rushed to the hospital to see the child. However, nothing could prepare the nun for what she would find there.

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In April 2019 Tai told TV station Channel NewsAsia, “When I first saw her, my heart ached when I imagined the pain and suffering she [had] endured, and tears started flowing from my eyes. I could not believe that a parent would do this to their own child.” The nun added, “All I could think of was finding a way to save her life, no matter the cost.”

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With that in mind, Tai decided to adopt the orphaned baby, who was given the name Hoai An. In the Vietnamese language, the moniker means “forever peace.” Of course, Tai herself had no time to rest. It was her aim to secure treatment for the new infant in her care, and she was soon pointed in the direction of the Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore.

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Mount Elizabeth was the nearest facility that could treat Hoai An properly, because it had the doctors and equipment needed. As such, it was the baby’s only hope. However, Singapore was around 800 miles from Da Lat. So Tai started appealing to kind hearts across Vietnam to try to secure the funds for Hoai An’s transfer.

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Later, Tai revealed she initially had little hope of being able to fundraise enough money to help Hoai An. She told Channel NewsAsia, “At first, I felt very lonely and lost, because I did not think anyone would find out about her story. However, as word began to spread on social media, people started calling, and donations began pouring in.”

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Indeed, within a matter of days, Tai had managed to raise around $25,000 towards Hoai An’s travel and treatment in Singapore. Lots of support came through social media, but there was at least one person who learned of the infant’s plight when visiting the Hue Quang monastery. That individual was Phung Lu, who had come to Vietnam from his home in Florida.

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Describing his reaction to meeting little Hoai An, in April 2019 Lu told Channel NewsAsia, “I was very hurt inside when I first saw her, because I’ve never heard of a situation like hers before.” He added, “As the situation was right there in front of me, I felt obligated to do my best to help her. I may not be as much help as the nuns, but I’ll do whatever I can to help Hoai An survive. It’s worth it.”

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And Lu wasn’t the only person to be touched by Hoai An’s story. Support for the infant snowballed, and the Vietnamese immigration department fast-tracked the baby’s passport application. As a result, a process that usually took two weeks was completed in 48 hours. Hoai An was soon on her way to Singapore, with Lu, Tai and fellow nun Thien Ngo.

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Hoai An and her entourage arrived in Singapore in April 2019. And the baby was placed in a room in the Mount Elizabeth Hospital children’s ward alongside Tai and Ngo. Lu meanwhile arranged his own accommodation. Once Hoai An was settled in, doctors got to work on treating the infant and easing her suffering.

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When Hoai An arrived at Mount Elizabeth Hospital she was suffering from a fever. What’s more, her head wound had turned necrotic, meaning her tissue had begun to die. She was therefore susceptible to infection. However, there was some hope regarding the swelling to her head, as it may have been down to a more common condition called hydrocephalus rather than the more serious hydranencephaly.

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Doctor Tang Kok Kee, a brain specialist, was among those charged with caring for Hoai An. He cleaned up her wounds and drained the surplus fluid from her head. This helped to relieve pressure in the baby’s skull. However, alongside her physical ailments, Hoai An also seemed to be suffering from the trauma of her abandonment.

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According to Tai, Hoai An needed to be constantly close to her carer and would cry throughout the night. The nun attributed this behavior to the harrowing ordeal she had faced in the first few days of her life. Tai told Channel NewsAsia, “The most difficult part of taking care of her was the first few days, when I could not sleep or rest because she cries a lot during the night.”

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But with the help of Tai and the staff at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Hoai An would receive the care she needed. To cure the lesion on her head the child needed daily medication. However, she appeared to be responding well to her treatment. As a result, doctors halved her estimated recovery period from two months to one.

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All the while, Tai kept Hoai An’s many supporters updated with her condition via Facebook. And from her posts, it seemed that things were looking up for the infant. With that in mind, Tai and Lu remained hopeful that Hoai An would thrive despite her grim prognosis. Lu told Channel NewsAsia, “If the doctor says the baby or the person will die tomorrow or one week later, we still do our best to help them live.”

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Lu added that he was hoping for a miracle when it came to Hoai An’s health. He explained to Channel NewsAsia in April 2019, “In many cases where science says there’s no hope or cure, we still take care of them. In a few cases, they survive and become healthy again.” And it appeared that Tai shared his positivity, promising to care for Hoai An for as long as possible.

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Speaking of the poorly infant, Tai told Channel NewsAsia, “We nicknamed her Hoa Sen Da [Succulent Plant]… Even if nearly the entire plant is gone, if one leaf is left, it can still regrow and become full again. Even if Hoai An has been through a great deal of pain and suffering, as long as she has a sliver of will to live left in her, there is hope.”

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Staying positive, there was cause for celebration in April 2019 when Hoai An had spent a full month in the care of Mount Elizabeth Hospital. To mark the occasion, staff at the hospital threw a party for the infant, complete with food and a cake. And a series of images from the celebration was shared on the Mount Elizabeth Hospital Facebook page.

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While speaking to Channel NewsAsia, Lu explained how the full-month party held spiritual and cultural significance in Asia. The celebration is usually held when an infant reaches their first month birthday. It’s then that people gather and pray for the baby and its parents, wishing them blessings and good health.

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During the ceremony, Tai fulfilled the role of Hoai An’s mother. But it had been the hospital staff who came up with the idea of the celebration. Doctor Noel Yeo, the CEO of Mount Elizabeth Hospital, told Channel NewsAsia, “The special circumstances surrounding this little patient moved our nurses and staff so much.”

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It seems that baby Hoai An made a big impression on some of the staff who cared for her during her time at Mount Elizabeth Hospital. Speaking of the infant, nurse Adeline Jane said, “She’s grown chubbier and her voice has grown louder. She’s a beautiful girl and very lucky. When she came in she was dehydrated.”

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The fact that Hoai An had survived her first month in the hospital was considered a miracle by some. And following her party, it was time for doctors to prepare the child for potentially life-saving surgery. During the procedure, surgeons would insert a device in her head to drain fluid off her brain.

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To pay for Hoai An’s continuing treatment, a non-profit organization known as GIVEAsia Kindness – which provides medical assistance to underprivileged families – established a crowdfunding campaign. Its target was to cover Hoai An’s surgery and medication costs for three years.

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Soon enough cash had been raised for Hoai An to undergo surgery. She did so in June 2019, and the organization shared an update on their crowdfunding page shortly after the procedure. It read, “Dear Donors, we visited Baby Hoai An this morning, after her surgery for inserting the VP shunt [fluid drain] recently.”

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The update from GIVEAsia Kindness continued, “She looks great, and [we] heard from Venerable Minh Tai that she’s slowly recovering. Let’s all keep Baby Hoai An in our prayers and kindly share this campaign with your friends, as we’re still far away from the goal of paying Baby Hoai An’s hospital bill and her medication for the next three years.”

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Later in June 2019, it was announced that Hoai An would soon be discharged from the hospital and return home. And this news was soon confirmed in a Facebook post from Mount Elizabeth Hospital. It read, “Baby Hoai An is going home! After months of care and recovery, baby Trieu Hoai An’s principal surgeon, Dr Tang Kok Kee, says her wounds have healed and she is now doing fine enough for discharge.”

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Consequently, Tai soon returned home to the Hue Quang monastery in Vietnam with baby Hoai An. However, this was unfortunately not the happy ending for which those caring for the infant had hoped. Sadly, in July 2019, Hoai An’s condition took a turn for the worse. And on this occasion the little baby was unable to recover.

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News of Hoai An’s death was confirmed on Facebook. In a heartbreaking post Tai revealed how the infant had passed away in her sleep at 4 a.m. on the morning of July 12, 2019. The nun had given the baby some milk at around 3 a.m. when she was woken by the child’s cries. But even after she fed the baby an entire bottle, Tai couldn’t soothe Hoai An.

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Hoai An eventually drifted back off to sleep. However, when Tai checked on her later, she discovered the infant wasn’t breathing. Hoai An was subsequently transferred to a local hospital, but doctors there were unable to resuscitate her. She was declared dead after just three months and three weeks on Earth.

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GIVEAsia Kindness shared the news of Hoai An’s death on the crowdfunding page it established to help the infant. The update read, “She seemed to be healthy up until yesterday, eating and playing as normal. She passed away in peace after having her last meal. We would like to thank all of you kind donors that contribute to Baby Hoai An’s medical treatment.”

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Following Hoai An’s death, Tai returned to her nature metaphor to describe what had happened. She said, “The winds of impermanence have shaken the last succulent leaf off the branches of life, with no time for a new plantlet to sprout.” Addressing the infant, she added, “May you soon be reborn into a better world.”

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Mount Elizabeth Hospital also issued a statement in response to Hoai An’s death, which stated it had been saddened by the news of the infant’s passing. The statement said, “She was a spirited baby who fought bravely despite her condition. We would like to extend our condolences to Venerable Minh Tai and her caretakers… May Hoai An rest in peace.”

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