Saturday, April 28, 2001

Anthony Deth presented Sok Oeuy, 14, a lei last night at Sok's
going-away party at Central Union Church. Sok, who was
severely injured in a land mine explosion in Cambodia, returns
to his homeland May 6. At left is Dr. Gunther Hintz, a
Honolulu physician who was involved in Sok's early treatment.

Land mine
victim bids farewell
to local friends

The Cambodian boy heads
home with legs repaired by
surgeries at Shriners Hospital

By Leila Fujimori

ALTHOUGH his name means peace, Sok Ouey is a victim of war.

The 14-year-old's legs were nearly blown off by a land mine in a remote village of Cambodia a year ago.

But thanks to Medicorps, Hawaii doctors and the local Cambodian community, he has been healed and will return on May 6 to his homeland. After three operations in Cambodia and 10 orthopedic and plastic surgeries in Hawaii, Sok's legs were saved.

"You have accomplished a miracle," Councilman John Henry Felix told about 60 members of the Cambodian community gathered last night at a farewell potluck dinner for Sok at the Central Union Church.

The community's love and care were part of the recovery, said Felix, who assisted in getting the boy a visa and passport.

For the past year, members of the small Cambodian community in Hawaii, numbering about 160, have welcomed Sok into their homes and shared meals with him. He spoke no English, had never been to school and lived in an extremely poor area dominated by the Khmer Rouge.

Sok was released two weeks ago from Shriners Hospital For Children where he has spent most of his time in Hawaii.

He thanked his surrogate family in Hawaii -- the Cambodians, the Shriners Hospital and church members.

Sok said he is anxious to see his parents and nine brothers and sisters when he returns.

Weighing a mere 36 pounds and at a height of less than 4 feet, Sok arrived extremely malnourished, with hepatitis and liver ailments.

He now stands 5 feet tall and weighs 75 pounds.

Although he cannot run, Sok's legs have been saved and he walks easily.

Sok has spent the past few weeks at the home of Sary Phean, who said the boy is like a son. He told her that he wants to go home now but said, "I want to come back."

When he first arrived, he cared little for American food, preferring Phean's Cambodian cooking. Now Sok said he likes pizza and ham.

"I'm going to miss him -- the way he makes jokes," said Phean's son, Sinnthor Kong, 17. "I feel like he's my brother."

Kong said Sok no longer speaks in Cambodian and prefers to converse in English, which he learned from volunteer teachers while in the hospital.

But Gunther Hintz, the Medicorps doctor who brought Sok to Hawaii and will bring him home, said the changes Sok has experienced physically and emotionally will make it difficult for him to return to his isolated village.

"After one year here it will be difficult to adjust to village life," Hintz said.

Hintz has been making arrangements to have him attend school in the town of Siem Reap, near Angkor Wat. He may get a job as a security guard, Hintz said.

He is concerned that when Sok returns to his village, his legs may be susceptible to infection from parasites, the lack of proper hygiene and the likelihood of his becoming a rice farmer.

Sok also goes home with clothes, toys and money -- $3,000 from Central Union Church and $1,000 from the community members.

"That makes him a target for violence," Hintz said.

So a trust has been set up for him.

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