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Tuesday, July 11, 2000

Danger Zone

The young victim of a Cambodian
land mine finds healing
and aloha in Hawaii

Bullet Injured surgeon healing others
Bullet Buried menace reaps devastation

By Rod Ohira


Thirteen-year-old Sok Ouey lives near the Thai border in a northwestern Cambodian village far removed from paved roads, schools, doctors and television.

He's a forgotten child, growing up in a death trap created by men at war.

The shooting has stopped but the omnipresent danger of hidden land mines in peacetime is a shattering reality for Sok, whose family of 10 barely survives on what they raise in the fields.

At 8 a.m. on March 29, Sok and four other young children were taking cows to pasture in Angtong village when one of the boys stepped on a small plastic land mine.

Three of them were killed.

One boy escaped serious injury. But Sok lay on the ground with severe leg injuries and burns.

"It's a miracle he's still alive," said Gunther Hintz of Honolulu, founder of Medicorps and a plastic surgeon. He provided medical service via the Internet to Sok and later arranged for him to be brought here.

Sok was injured by a cylinder land mine, about three inches long, with a push-button trigger at the top.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Tom Brotherton, administrator of Shriners Hospital for
Children, stands by as Sok Ouey, 13, takes a few steps
aided by a walker at the hospital. Sok's legs were
injured and burned by a land mine.

"It's like a grenade," Hintz said. "It's loaded with high explosive powder and is deadly within a radius of 30 feet."

Sok lay in the field screaming for many minutes before help arrived, said the doctor.

"The closest town is at least an hour's bike ride away, but for a hospital they had to go to Siem Reap," Hintz said. "They rented a motorbike and it took six hours to get there because there are no paved roads.

"By the time they got to Siem Reap, Sok was in shock and about to die. He had lost a lot of blood."

Jon Morgan, who earned his master's degree in public health at the University of Hawaii and formerly taught at the Manoa Campus, is the administrator of the children's hospital at Siem Reap.

"Jon's blood was compatible so he gave his blood to Sok," Hintz said. "My estimate is the boy weighed between 45 to 50 pounds and had lost half his blood by the time they brought him in."

Three other Hawaii-licensed registered nurses are working at the Siem Reap Hospital -- Mieko Sei Morgan, Jon's wife; Kazumi Sakima and David Shoemaker.

Jon Morgan emailed Hintz, requesting his assistance.

"Jon asked if there was any chance to save the boy's legs," Hintz said. "When I first saw the legs, I thought the chances were slim.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Above, a land mine similar to the
one that maimed Sok Ouey.

"The legs were severely shattered. Bone fragments were sticking out everywhere. His muscle and tendons were torn."

Hintz helped treat the boy daily for two weeks via the Internet until his condition stabilized.

He then flew to Cambodia with the intent of bringing Sok back to Shriners Hospital for Children in Honolulu.

"What's impressive to me is that if one person along the way dropped the ball, Sok would not have made it," said Dr. Kent Reinker, chief of staff at Shriners Hospital. "It was a miracle of coordination."

Once Hintz received permission from Sok's parents to bring him to Hawaii, people in Washington, D.C., Cambodia and Honolulu put a plan in motion.

"First, we had to get him a passport and visa without having to wait six weeks or longer," Hintz said.

Surgery in Hawaii

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, U.S. Commander in Chief Pacific (CINCPAC) officials, Shriners Hospital Board Chairman Jack Webb and telemedicine coordinator Jana Chang helped cut through red tape to get Sok his traveling papers.

"All of this was done in three days," Hintz said. "It got up to the highest levels and we're all very grateful it went so well."

China Air flew Sok to Hawaii for free and he was admitted to Shriners Hospital on May 1.

Dr. Benjamin C. Chu, a reconstruction surgery specialist who is donating his services, said the bones of Sok's badly fractured legs had been set by the time he arrived here.

"We did mostly soft-tissue coverage or skin grafting," Chu said.

Sok, who stands 4 feet 9 and now weighs 60 pounds, began walking again on June 30.

"The kid's tough," Reinker said. "It's pretty fantastic that he survived, has his legs and is now walking."

Culture shock

Until he was injured, Sok was isolated from outside influences and knew only the Khmer Rouge way of life. Many of the Cambodians here who have befriended the boy are victims of the Khmer Rouge.

Art "The Cambodian people in Hawaii couldn't care less where he comes from," Anthony Rina Deth, president of the Cambodian Association of Hawaii and Sok's translator, said of the Khmer Rouge ties. "The past is gone.

"For him, it has been a physical and cultural shock. Our No. 1 goal here is to give him moral support. This is a little boy who didn't even know what ice cream was until he came here."

Deth, his brother Rinou Kong and sister-in-law Sary Phean visit Sok daily.

"He's like a son to us now," Kong said.

But the boy's heartwarming smile disappears and he gets teary-eyed when asked if he would like to remain in Hawaii.

"He misses his parents and family and he's wanting to go home," Deth said. "When my sister asked him why he wants to go home and walk on dirt again, he told her: 'What else do I walk on?' "

If all goes well, Sok should be able to return home in a couple of months, said Reinker.

"Since he's going back to Cambodia, we want to make absolutely sure the skin coverage will hold up," Reinker said.

When asked what he likes best about the new world he's experiencing, Sok told his interpreter "TV."

"Shaka," Sok said, calling out one of his favorite new words, flashing the hand sign and his winning smile for a photographer.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Surgeon Gunther Hintz visits land-mine victim Sok Ouey, 13.

Sidelined by an injury,
local surgeon keeps
healing others

By Rod Ohira


After a back injury forced him to shut down his Honolulu practice, plastic surgeon Gunther Hintz challenged himself to do something more rewarding.

In 1984, Dr. Hintz founded Trans-Pacific Health Foundation, which later became Medicorps. The tax-exempt charitable organization is dedicated to helping needy patients in developing countries.

"I had a very good life when I practiced, but I saw the plight of others in Third World countries and wanted to help them," said the 55-year-old Hintz, a native of Germany who has been a Hawaii resident since 1971.

Hintz says 10-15 doctors in Hawaii volunteer regularly for medical missions.

"The family whose disabled child is now healed or the carpenter whose restored hand may build shelters for the needy again, will they ever forget who helped?" Hintz said.

"This type of aid has far more impact than simple monetary handouts."

Medicorps has provided services to about 1,500 people in foreign countries over the years and has twice arranged for children to get medical attention in Hawaii, including 13-year-old Cambodian Sok Ouey.

"It's a very, very rewarding experience to see a land-mine victim like Sok walking again," Hintz said. "That's what Medicorps is about.

"We'll help anyone. Even the lowest of lowest in a country should know there are people in the world who care. That will give them hope."

Financial contributions to Medicorps are used for medical supplies, transportation and training volunteers in underdeveloped countries.

Further information on Medicorps is available on its Web site at

Associated Press
Old, unexploded American ordnance and land mines
continue to kill or maim several people a month. Above,
Vietnamese children inspect artillery shells near a
former U.S. military base in Dong Ha in April.

Buried menace
reaps devastation

By Rod Ohira


Sok Ouey is one of the lucky ones. 

The 13-year-old boy, critically injured in a March 29 land-mine explosion in the northern farmlands of Cambodia, received medical assistance from Honolulu-based Medicorps that helped save his life and legs.

"For every one child that survives, hundreds worldwide are killed by land mines every day," Medicorps founder Dr. Gunther Hintz said.

"When you lose your legs in a Third World country, you are condemned to a life of begging and despair."

A November 1999 Newhouse News Service report noted that anti-personnel mines kill or maim an estimated 25,000 civilians each year in countries such as Angola, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Senegal, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and the Kashmir region of India.

Reuters reported last month that the United States is providing Vietnam with $1.7 million worth of de-mining equipment to help clear the country of an estimated 3.5 million mines planted on battlefields from the 1940s to the 1970s.

"I hope that there will come a time when land mines will be looked upon in museums as a weapon from a bygone era of violence and mayhem," said U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who helped Medicorps obtain a passport and visa for Sok. "I will work to that end."

The presence of land mines has stunted economic progress in Cambodia, says Hintz.

"The whole development of the country is retarded because they can't even build roadways," Hintz said. "There are mines all over.

"Some places are as bad as Afghanistan, where they have layers upon layers of mines. You think you've cleared an area only to find there's another layer.

"In Cambodia, the problem is there are lots of mines in the bushes. Every time it rains, mines are uncovered."

The United States reportedly spends $100 million a year on land-mine removal, mine education and victim assistance.

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