Retired King, Queen Help Child Needing Surgery Get to US

Retired King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Norodom Monineath joined medical doctors offering free care and a humanitarian organization offering to defray costs, to support a badly deformed boy’s trip to the US for life-transforming treatment.

But red tape stands in the way of the medical treatment being offered to Roth Arun, 2, at the Boston Children’s Hospital in the US.

Born with the lower section of his left leg and left arm missing, and a large growth on his face, Roth Arun was abandoned at the Kantha Bopha Hospital in Phnom Penh. He was cared for at the hospital before being transferred to the Nutrition Center in Phnom Penh, an orphanage run by the municipal department of social affairs for destitute, handicapped and sick children, Keo Vanna, 48, a child minder at the center, said on Sunday.

Earlier this year Roth Arun’s plight was brought to the attention of the Children’s Medical Missions, a US-based humanitarian organization working in the developing world to provide children with free medical care in the US, said CMM’s Ellen McDaniel in e-mail correspondence last week.

But Roth Arun must first get a Cambodian passport and a travel visa before he can be treated in the US. After he is treated he will return to Cambodia. With no parents to give permission for Roth Arun to go abroad, however, those seeking to help him are facing a difficult and time-consuming bureaucratic process.

On Friday, Roth Arun’s plight was told to Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Monineath at the Royal Palace, where the feisty 2-year-old was presented with a toy car by the retired King and, unruffled by the presence of royalty, began to play on the palace carpet.

Deputy Prime Minister and Co-Minister of Interior Prince Norodom Sirivudh has also offered to help secure a passport for Roth Arun, said Bernard Krisher, chairman of two NGOs and publisher of The Cambodia Daily who is also helping to facilitate Arun’s trip to the US.

Resting in his crib at the Nutrition Center on Sunday, Roth Arun was oblivious to the storm of interest in his well-being.

“He likes to play a lot,” said Keo Vanna, adding that Roth Arun was a lively child. Despite his deformities, Keo Vanna said, he is as much of a handful as the other five children suffering from tuberculosis, HIV, and mental illnesses with whom he shares his small room.

Dr Paul Heinzelmann of Partners Telemedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, who is in Cambodia to evaluate locations for the Harvard Medical School’s Telemedicine project, is waiting for Roth Arun’s paperwork to come through so he can escort him to Boston.

He said that the treatment Arun requires is not available in Cambodia. “The specialized level of training for the surgery that he needs isn’t available in Cambodia, so his only help is to look elsewhere.”

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