Tha Gan (burns)

Tha Gan is six years old and is from Karen State, Burma. When Tha Gan was 3 years old she tripped into a large fry pan of boiling curry that was being cooked over embers at ground height. She sustained third degree burns to her chin, neck, upper chest, down both arms and on her upper thighs. At the time of the accident her mother rubbed toothpaste into her injuries (this appears to be a very common remedy for burns in rural areas of Burma). The next day Tha Gan’s parents realised that her burns were life threatening. They made the decision to use their savings to travel into Thailand and seek care at Mae Sot Hospital. Tha Gan spent the next 5 months in hospital requiring multiple skin grafts to her neck and chest area.

No contingency plans were in place for the follow-up care that would be required for when Tha Gan’s body would grow but her scar tissue would not. Three years after the accident, a thick column of scar tissue is now pulling her head down towards her chest. The tension is so tight that her lower eye lids and jaw are being pulled down. The joints in her hands and elbows are immobile in fixed and contracted positions. She has to lie down, raise her arms above her head or rest her arms on furniture to relieve the pulling sensation. Her taut scarring has become severely itchy and she scratches causing fresh lesions.

Third-degree burns

Tha Gan’s father ekes out a living as a fortune teller. He makes 40,000 Kyat (US$40) per month. Her mother stays home to care for her and her adopted 3 year old brother. Tha Gan’s older brother is 11 years old and goes to school. He attempts to teach Tha Gan how to read since she was denied entry to school. Tha Gan’s parents were told by teachers that schooling would not be beneficial since she could not hold a pencil.

For two years Tha Gan’s parents have wished they could pursue further medical treatment for their only daughter. They can barely afford taking her to the local clinic which costs 2000 Kyat (US$2) per visit. Her parents have tried traditional remedies that involved Tha Gan swallowing herbal potions but this has not changed her condition. Tha Gan’s mother constantly worries about what the future holds for her young daughter. Her mother explains that if Tha Gan remains disfigured she will need to stay at home for the rest of her life. Since her parents had been to Mae Sot for Tha Gan’s original treatment, they were aware of the Mae Tao Clinic. They decided that the Mae Tao Clinic was their only hope at accessing further health care since it was free of charge. After she arrived at Mae Tao Clinic, Tha Gan was referred to Burma Children Medical Fund (BCMF) to facilitate her treatment process.

Tha Gan loves to wear dresses, have her face decorated with Burmese traditional make up (tanakha) and likes to tease her attentive younger brother. Tha Gan’s looks at her mother’s 5 month pregnant belly and says that she wants to be a mother too when she grows up.