Aye Mya is a 16 year-old girl who was diagnosed with a hemangioma when she was six months old. A hemangioma is a benign tumor characterized by an increased number of blood vessels. Aye Mya’s father is an agricultural day laborer in Burma and earns 2,000 kyat ($2 USD) per day. Aye Mya’s mother and eldest brother also work and earn 2,000 kyat each, however their work is dependent on the season and on average, they work 10 days per month. Aye Mya’s family’s basic living expenses are over 50,000 kyat ($50 USD) per month, so their income is just enough to make ends meet. They do not have extra money to save for unexpected costs. Aye Mya was attending school and had finished the eighth grade, but had to quit school four years ago due to her parent’s unstable financial situation.
When she was six months old, her mother noticed a small red mark on her lip that she thought was a rash from when she had been playing a few days prior. However, the mark slowly started getting bigger and by the time she was three years old, it had significantly grown in size. It continued to grow and when she was eight years old, her father took her to the local government clinic in their township. The nurse examined her but said they couldn’t treat her there and she should go to Pyi City for further treatment. They returned home and did not attempt to go to Pyi City as they believed they would not be able to afford the cost of treatment in a bigger clinic at that time. However, they saved money and two years later when Aye Mya was ten years old they had enough to go to the hospital in Pyi. At this point, the growth was the size of a walnut. The doctor examined her and injected the growth with medicine that he said was designed to shrink it. However, according to her father, instead of shrinking the growth it doubled in size. Her father says he did not understand what the doctor was hoping to achieve or how the treatment would help his daughter. They stayed at the hospital for five days and the cost of the medication was 30,000 kyat ($30 USD). They returned for a follow-up appointment the next month and the doctor gave Aye Mya a second injection. However, the hospital staff still didn’t explain the treatment to them and they were again charged 30,000 kyat for the injection. The doctor asked them to return for another follow-up appointment the following month, but Aye Mya and her father were not seeing any progress and could not afford further appointments so they did not return to the hospital. It soon became clear that they could not afford to get Aye Mya the kind of treatment she needed.
They returned home and didn’t seek any further treatment until Aye Mya was 15 years old. Last year her uncle told them about Mae Tao Clinic and encouraged Aye Mya and her father to seek treatment there. They arrived at the clinic in December 2012 and medics diagnosed her with a hemangioma. The medics asked them to return in October 2013 when Operation Smile would come to Mae Sot Hospital as they hoped that her hemangioma was the type of condition that could be treated by them. The family then decided that they should move to Thailand and find work her while awaiting her treatment in Mae Sot. The entire family relocated to Mae Sot on September 1st, 2013 with the help of the uncle who took Aye Mya to MTC. Her parents and eldest brother got jobs as agricultural day laborers and they each earn 120 baht ($4 USD) per day.
Aye Mya says the growth does not cause her any pain, though she does have some difficulty eating normally because of the location of the growth. When she became a teenager, she felt shy and embarrassed to go out in public. She sometimes hides herself at home and refuses to go out in the community. After she stopped going to school she would occasionally help her parents in the field, but this work was not consistent. She eventually stopped working as she felt too shy to go out.
Aye Mya says that when she was younger she wanted to be a doctor when she grew up, but now she knows that is impossible since she has stopped attending school. She says she gave up on having any hopes and desires for her future since she is so self-conscious about the growth on her upper lip. She says that maybe her outlook will change following surgery and is eager to have treatment.
Aye Mya is currently undergoing treatment in Chiang Mai.