Back to all posts

In search of patients

Michelle Fernández by Michelle Fernández  •  posted a year ago in story

We met BT at his desk.

But the 44-year-old care coordinator at Children’s Surgical Centre (CSC) — a free clinic in Cambodia’s capital — is rarely there.

He spends most of his days in search of patients.

BT leads a program focused on finding patients with meningoencephalocele (MEC), a life-threatening neural tube defect characterized by sac-like protrusions of the brain through openings in the skull. The exact cause is unknown, but some doctors attribute the high incidence of MEC in Cambodia to exposure to moldy rice during pregnancy.

“It is such a hard life.”

“Many MEC patients die young,” BT told us. “But before that end, it is such a hard life. They get headaches and bad vision. They have trouble learning. And it gets worse — they face stigma because of the way they look. They are pushed out of the community.”

“I always find them.”

“Because the patients are outcasts, their families hide them. So the patients stay home. Then they die,” BT continued. “It can be difficult — but I always find them."


12-year-old Veasna is one of those patients.

BT traveled nearly four hours to Veasna’s village. “At first, they told me no one there had MEC," said BT, "but I heard rumors. So I waited. A few days later, someone told me about Veasna.”

“We couldn't do anything to help him.”

“The kids bullied him at school,” Nam, Veasna’s mother, told us. “They called him names and they hurt him. He wants to be a teacher. But for so long he was too scared to go to school and learn because of the other kids. We couldn't do anything to help him.”

“Every day, we were sure he would die.”

“Before BT found us, we thought Veasna would die young. I worried all the time. Every day, we thought it would happen. Every day, we were sure he would die.”


Today, Veasna is healthy.

After BT found Veasna, CSC posted Veasna’s profile on Watsi and in one week, three donors contributed $390 for his life-saving treatment.

“He's a child again.”

“He goes outside and he plays with other children now," his mother told us. “He's not shy at school anymore. He's a child again.”


“I love that I can change lives.”

“I love these trips,” BT told us. “I love seeing the people I find smile after treatment. They say, ‘This guy changed my life,’ and it feels good. I love that I can change lives like Veasna's.”


Michelle Fernández

Telling the stories of Watsi patients and donors. Head of Content at Watsi.