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Monday, October 30, 2000

By Ronen Zilberman, Star-Bulletin
Cambodian teen-ager Sok Ouey tosses the football
during a game at an Ala Moana Park picnic. Sok
has been a patient at Shriners Hospital here.

Happiness is
people who care

A Cambodian boy, his legs
mangled by a land mine, gets
treatment, and a surrogate
family, in Hawaii

By Leila Fujimori

Sok Ouey, a 13-year-old Cambodian boy whose legs were shredded by a land mine in March, tried out his new legs yesterday at Ala Moana Beach Park. He walked a dog, rode a bike and tossed a football with friends.

"I'm so happy he can walk now," said Jeffery Prak, 20, who has visited Sok in the hospital every Friday. "He's so improved."

Sok clasped his hands and bowed his head as he was warmly greeted by about 40 of the 150 members of the local Cambodian community who held a picnic in his honor. He enjoyed an array of Cambodian dishes, including his favorite -- chicken.

It was the first time Sok had met with community members outside Shriners Hospital for Children. He has spent the last six months there undergoing reconstruction surgery, skin grafts and physical therapy.

By Ronen Zilberman, Star-Bulletin
John Yin, left, and Anthony Deth help on Sok's bike ride.

"We wanted to take him to our homes," said Anthony Deth, president of the Cambodian Community Organization of Hawaii. But doctors would not allow it until Sok's health improved, so the families have been taking turns visiting him.

"I feel like he's my child," said Sary Phean.

She takes Cambodian food to Sok, who doesn't care much for American food. She and her husband, Rinou Kong, work nearby and visit Sok daily.

Kong and others bring books and teach him to speak, read and write English. One of 10 children, Sok has never gone to school. Only one of his nine brothers and sisters can read.

On March 29, Sok's friend stepped on a land mine, killing himself and another boy and shattering Sok's legs. Two other boys were hurt. The boys, from the remote village of Angtong, were taking a cow to pasture.

"His legs looked like chopped meat and broken bones were sticking out," said Dr. Gunther Hintz of Medicorps.

Hintz brought Sok to Hawaii for medical attention. Besides the injuries to his legs, Sok lost the top of his left index finger, and his face and body were cut by shrapnel. He was also extremely malnourished, weighing 36 pounds and suffering from vitamin deficiency as well as hepatitis and liver problems.

Phean's home cooking of soups, papaya salad, chicken and rice helped nourish Sok back to health. He now weighs 66 pounds and has grown to a height of four feet, about as tall as his father.

He began walking without crutches three weeks ago and may have one more operation. He had been unable to walk at all for three months.

"Eventually he'll walk 90 percent normal," Hintz said.

At the picnic, Sok didn't seem to mind the women doting over him and inspecting his badly scarred legs.

Later, he spent time with other boys, smiling, talking and joking in his native tongue.

Sandy Yin noticed that Sok's formerly gaunt face is now round and full.

She said Sok's home is in a jungle area where the Khmer Rouge reigned. Although the war ended a few years ago, land mines litter the country. In heavily populated areas, they have been cleared, but they abound in the remote jungle.

Hintz said he fears if Sok returns home, he will have difficulty adjusting. He also would run the risk of infection if he works in the rice paddies.

Phean and Kong, who have three children, will take Sok into their home after he is discharged from the hospital in about two weeks.

Hintz will take him back to Cambodia in six to eight weeks. He and Kong hope to find someone to care for Sok in a Cambodian town where he can attend school and find a different life.

The Hawaii Cambodian community has donated $250 to the cause, and will raise more money at a cultural event within a month.

Anyone interested in donating to Medicorps may call 590-2222. Donations may be sent to 1062 Alewa Dr., Honolulu 96817, and should be earmarked for Sok.

E-mail to City Desk

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