FAMILY AND MEDICAL BACKGROUND:
When Than Zin was born she had a small, fluid-filled sack on the back of her head (meningocele). She was born at a hospital so the doctor told her parents to take her to Rangoon Hospital. Than Zin’s parents were not able to travel to Rangoon because they did not have the money for surgery.
Both of her parents work at a rubber plantation and earn 100,000 Kyat (US$100) a month between them. They do not live in a house but sleep under a plastic sheet on the rubber plantation where they work. Than Zin’s older brothers were attending school however their parents can no longer afford to send them to school so they have had to stop. (note: Than Zin’s mother was previously married and her two older sons are not the biological children of Than Zin’s father).
Than Zin’s physical condition is so severe that she had to lie on a specially made wooden carry-board as her parents cannot hold her like a normal child. In December 2010, the sack on the back of her head was bigger than her actual head and it was very difficult for her parents to manage her care. Her mother had to lie down on the floor next to her daughter to feed her.
Than Zin’s parents’ heard about the Mae Tao Clinic from a monk who lived in their village. He had been to the Clinic for treatment. They travelled to the Clinic by public line car and it cost them 30,000 Kyat (US$30). It took them one day to get to Myawaddy on the Burma-side of the border and they crossed into Thailand the next day.
Than Zin has not had any treatment for her condition in Burma. Her parents could not afford to take her to Rangoon after she was born and they had no choice but to manage her condition as best they could with the limited resources they had. They felt a bit of hope when they heard about the Mae Tao Clinic in October 2010. However, they were not able to bring Than Zin straight to the Clinic because they heard that the border between Burma and Thailand was closed (note: the border between Mae Sot and Myawaddy has been permanently closed since July 2010. As at September 2011, the border is still closed but people from Burma as still able to cross in an unofficial capacity).
Apart from the large sack on her head (which has caused a level of blindness and brain damage), Than Zin was relatively healthy when she presented at the Mae Tao Clinic in December 2010. She was sucking well, was sleeping well and didn’t suffer from many coughs or fevers. Her condition means that her mother was not able to go to work as she had to take care of her.
Her parents hoped that Than Zin could get treatment – they wanted to try any means possible. Even if there was only a slim chance for their daughter, they would have done anything.
Since coming onto the BCMF program, Than Zin and her mother travelled to Chiang Mai twice. The first trip (December 2010) was for further investigation and diagnostic testing. The second trip was for surgical interventions which included removal of the myelomeningocele on the 27th of May 2011 and the insertion of shunt for the associated condition of Hydrocephalus on the 18th of June 2011.
Than Zin’s mother says that her experience in Chiang Mai with her daughter was very good. Than Zin’s mother explains that she found it rewarding to assist with other patients staying at the patient safe house in Chiang Mai. She went on to say that all the doctors and nurses at the hospital were very nice to them.
POST-OP CONDITION (physical and social):
There’s a dramatic difference in Than Zin’s condition since having the sac removed in May. Than Zin’s mother states she is so easy to care for now. The fluid-filled sac at the back of her head was so large and cumbersome that her parents needed a crate to carry her around on. Post-operatively, the crate has been happily discarded. Than Zin used to lie in a fixed position as the mass prevented her from being able to turn or roll over. Now that her movement is not restricted, she is very active and strong. BCMF staff noted that Than Zin almost giggled out of her mother’s arms during the post-op interview (though thankfully her mother had a good hold of her). Than Zin’s mother used to have lie down and position her body in an odd way to breastfeed but now she just places her on her breast like a normal mother and child. Before the operation Than Zin didn’t try to speak (even though she was at an age when children start to make noises and form words). Now she is starting to test out her vocal cords by making different sounds.
HOME AND FAMILY – LOOKING TOWARDS THE FUTURE:
In mid-July 2011, Than Zin’s mother took her daughter back home to the rubber plantation where they live. She was looking forward to being reunited with her family as, until now, all of their emotional, temporal and financial resources have been directed into helping Than Zin. Than Zin’s mother believes the corrective surgery her daughter has received will help her family as they will now be able to work hard and focus on paying back debt that they have accumulated.
Than Zin was one month of age when her mother realised that her daughter had low vision. She says that if she was given just one more wish it would be that her daughter’s vision is restored. Despite the surgery that has given Than Zin (now 15 months old) a new lease on life; she is left with a degree of physical and mental disability that will last the rest of her life. Than Zin’s mother extremely happy to be able to engage with her daughter and is overwhelmed by the transition. She is very thankful for all the care Than Zin received and she hopes that everyone connected with BCMF has a long life.
NOTE: Than Zin’s journey has been followed from the banks of the Moei river by photographer Brennan O’Connor. Brennan came across Than Zin and her parents as they arrived on the Thai side of the border. He helped them get to Mae Tao Clinic and has been assisting the family where he can. Please visit Brennan’s website to see some truly touching images of Than Zin during her treatment: Baby by the River