A Second Chance

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14-year-old Samnang and his mum Savy arrived at The Retreat from Cambodia in December. Suffering from terrible headaches, blurry vision, lethargy and a host of other symptoms, sadly, Samnang’s life had been permanently put on hold. He was unable to attend school or participate much in family life.

Samnang had a rare type of tumour in the middle of his adrenal gland. Although benign, the tumour triggered the uncontrolled release of the hormones that regulate the heart rate, metabolism and blood pressure – putting great stress on his heart.  In the worst case, a massive release of adrenaline, could have caused poor Samnang to have a stroke or heart attack. Samnang was gravely ill.  

He was given medication to help manage the condition, but the only treatment for this kind of tumour is to remove it surgically. As this was not possible in Cambodia, Samnang was referred to us by A/Prof Chris Kimber from Monash Children’s Hospital.

While the team at the hospital were able to perform the surgery, they were unable to offer the 24/7 care required for the estimated 2-month stay pre and post his operation. Being a public hospital, they were also unable to provide the full treatment pro-bono. We were happy to step in to provide the care and financial support needed to give this gorgeous young man a second chance.

Samnang and his mum Savy at The Retreat

We always know that we are incredibly fortunate to have such a skilled team at The Retreat but never more so than in this case. Debbie, our Retreat Manager, had been carefully monitoring Samnang’s blood pressure since his arrival. When he was taken for his initial check-up on 24 December, she expressed her concern and passed Samnang’s records to his specialist doctors. The team decided he needed to be admitted immediately. His blood pressure was dangerously high, resulting in massive strain on his heart.

Samnang and Savy spent an anxious Christmas in ICU waiting for a date for the operation. Our huge thanks to members of the Melbourne Cambodian community who visited them regularly, helped with translation, and brought Samnang and Savy their favourite Cambodian food. The community’s kindness and compassion were overwhelming to Savy – she could not thank them enough.

With Mr Peter Ferguson heading up the Monash surgical team, Samnang underwent an 8-hour operation early in January. The surgery was successful but complications due to the length of time that Samnang had lived with very high blood pressure, meant that he had an extended stay in ICU. It was an extremely anxious time for Savy and all at CFF. Samnang’s heart had been pumping so hard that the muscle (just like any other) had become thickened from use. His body had almost become used to the excessive adrenalin and needed time to get used to the new normal.

Samnang was finally discharged from the hospital with the all-clear on 15 January. We were thrilled to have him back at The Retreat for some much-deserved recuperation. Straight away, we saw a different boy – no more headaches, afternoon naps on the sofa, or excessive sweating. And wow, could this new boy put away the food! And for the first time in months, Savy slept soundly.

In late January he had his final ultrasound. Dr Ari, Samnang’s cardiologist, was very happy to see that there was a significant decline in the thickening of the heart. While it will be a long process, possiblythree years, a full recovery is expected.

Samnang and Savy headed home in early February. His doctors in Cambodia have been provided with all the information they need to deliver his follow up care.

Savy wanted to make sure that we passed on this message to all our donors, volunteers and supporters “thank you so much for everything – YOU saved my son’s life.”

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