Child, 3, needs cardiac surgery `yesterday'
By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer
Three year-old Bunlak Song is comforted by his sister, Bunkek Song, after arriving at Los Angeles International Airport of Cambodia on March 6, 2011. Bunlak Song was brought to the United States by Hearts Without Boundaries, a Long Beach, Calif.-based non-profit group, to help repair his heart. (Jeff Gritchen / Press-Telegram)
LOS ANGELES - As the group walked through the crowds at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport, the little boy tucked in his head toward his shoulder and reflexively reached for the sleeve of his older sister.
The shy 3-year-old had just circled half the world in search of a miracle.
Bunlak Song is the latest cause for Peter Chhun and his small Long Beach nonprofit, Hearts Without Boundaries. Song was diagnosed with a large hole in his heart, called a ventricular septal defect, as well as other complicating factors necessitating heart surgery. Song is the fourth impoverished child Chhun and Hearts Without Boundaries have brought out of Cambodia since 2008 to receive surgery not available to them in their homeland.
In the U.S., Song would have had corrective surgery in infancy. But in Cambodia, the congenital defect is a lingering death sentence.
Although Chhun had planned to arrange treatment for Song later this year, the timeline was accelerated when cardiologist Paul Grossfeld found the defect was severe and the need for surgery was imminent.
Grossfeld said the window for operating on Song was closing quickly and the damage would soon become too severe and the risk too high.
"When Dr. Grossfeld said `the operation on Bunlak should have been done yesterday,' I knew right away that Bunlak's heart defect is very severe," Chhun said by e-mail before he left Cambodia.
Chhun was helping doctors on a medical mission and extended his stay to secure visas for Song, his sister, Bunkek Song, and cousin Sokunthy Khouon.
Although Chhun has no agreement from a hospital to operate, he has been in talks with several hospitals, including Miller Children's Hospital in Long Beach. He says it was important to get the boy to U.S. soil and work from here to find help for the child.
"We don't have a concrete plan yet," Chhun said. "We just want to show people he really needs help. This is a gamble, but I think we can do it."
Grossfeld said without surgery, it was unlikely the boy would survive to adulthood.
Song was two days old when his homeless mother begged a family visiting the hospital to take her son. By nightfall, the mother had disappeared and left her child behind.
The adoptive parents, Siv Leng Chuy and Chin Song Hai, scratch out a living selling gas in plastic bottles to taxis, motorcycles and tuk-tuks in their home village.
But they have taken the boy in and say he has brought them luck.
Now they are hoping for another stroke of luck to save their son.
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