Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Taking Care of Ut

We first met Ms. Ut at the Hoi An Home for the Aged and Disabled in 2006 while on a tour with TOP  Vietnam Veterans, our first trip to Vietnam. As the name implies, the home is a pretty basic care facility for "orphans": people of disability or the aged who do not have family to care for them. Staff do their best to provide nourishment, shelter and personal care under difficult conditions and with inadequate funding.

However, Ut and many of the residents showed the resilience we find so admirable in the Vietnamese.   Our group in 2006 was greeted with welcoming smiles and those who were able came forward to shake our hands, to show us their rooms, to share small stories which because of our lack of skill in the Vietnamese language were short, often befuddled and funny. But we did make friends and over the subsequent 9 years, Ut became a very special friend indeed.

We visited annually with TOP and witnessed a special bond grow between Ut, Jess Devaney, TOP's founder and Vu Duc Anh our guide. Ut seemed to be the center's Ambassador of cheer. She embraced all of the TOP trippers and had a great fondness for Bruce.

 When we first met Ut she used blocks of wood to get around. A double amputee, she lost her lower limbs to a landmine when she was fifteen during the war. Since then she has resided at the home. Thanks to TOP, Ut was given a wheelchair which opened up her world. During our subsequent visits and long stays in Hoi An, Bruce and I would often see Ut as we rode by on our bicycles, visiting with her friends the street vendors across the road. She always waved, flashed her big smile and shouted greetings to us.

Sadly, on our visit in September 2015 we learned that Ut has liver cancer. Here she is though, with Anh, Marsha Devaney and Jess Devaney on that day, still smiling.

But there were tears after the smiles. Ut knew that her cancer was terminal and some of our group members knew that this would probably be the last time they would see Ut. 

When Bruce and I returned to Hoi An in early 2016 a visit to Ut was high on the list. Ut had failed dramatically. She was very thin and confined to her bed and in severe pain.

It was time to set the wheels in motion. Anh, our TOP guide and dear friend in Ho Chi Minh City helped us (as did the staff and our family at Reaching Out) with coming to understanding with the Director of the home and his Head Nurse what medications Ut needed to supplement her nutrition and to ease her pain. Anh, the Director and Head Nurse worked out with the Doctor how the medications might be procured. Bruce and I sent the word to our network of TOP tour participants to generate the necessary funds. The team at Reaching Out provided us with translators for our visits with Ut and they also added funds from their own charitable foundation.

 It is worthy to note that Reaching Out, a social enterprise which we began to serve in 2006, has grown to 70 staff and because of their success are now at a point where the staff themselves volunteer in community outreach to persons of disability and they are able to support others financially.

The network responded and Ut has had medications since March. Miraculously she lives on, although our friends in Hoi An were deeply saddened on their last visit to see her distended abdomen and her frailty. This picture was a clarion call and more donations were sent to ensure that these last days will be as comfortable as possible for dear Ut.

Ut has been a great teacher. By example, she has shown us all how life can be rich and full of laughter. She has shown us grace despite her humble life and her painful ending.

  Thank you Ut. And thank you to TOP trip participants, Anh, the Reaching Out staff and the Director of the Hoi An Home for facilitating our gift giving and delivering the medications that Ut has needed. Blessings to all.