“Before my baby was born, the village doctor came and felt my belly, and told me she would be born with two heads,” says Daw Lae Lae, who was seven months pregnant at the time. Her daughter, Than Zin Moe, was not born with an extra head, but suffered from meningocele; a rare condition in which the meninges protruding from a spinal opening allows fluid to be trapped in a fold of skin on the back of the head, creating a large sack. After Than Zin Moe’s birth, her parents borrowed money to take her to a hospital in Yangon, the commercial capital of Myanmar. “It took them a month to do an x-ray,” says Lae Lae. After the x-ray, “I was happy because I thought they were finally going to do something to help my baby. I waited all day for the news without eating and just had a bottle for the baby.” The doctors told Lae Lae to bring Than Zin Moe back when she was older; there was nothing they could do. Broke and in despair, the couple sullenly returned to their village in Mon State.
As Than Zin Moe got older, the bulge on the back of her head grew larger. Eventually Lae Lae needed to breastfeed her lying down. Than Zin Moe’s bulge was now bigger than her head — something needed to be done.
A monk advised them to go to the free clinic in Mae Sot on the Thai-Myanmar border. The family saved for months for the trip by working every day at a rubber farm — a job paying only one dollar for each day of work. Lae Lae’s two sons were taken out of school to save money. Three months later they left for the border, about a five-hour journey by truck.
At the Mae Tao Clinic, the doctors said Than Zin Moe would not survive the operation — her condition had progressed too far. The family planned to travel back home in the coming days, once again out of hope for their daughter.
But the next day, the family returned to the clinic. They met a representative of the Burma Children’s Medical Fund, an independent child welfare group. The fund opened a case for Than Zin Moe.
Later, they sent her to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand for tests. Once they got the green light for payment from their affiliate aid group, Child’s Dream, the operation could be performed.
“I can’t describe in words just how happy I am now,” said Lae Lae.
Lae Lae’s prayers were answered: the fluid sack was removed. For the first time in Than Zin Moe’s young life she could sit upright with help from mom.
The infant’s life was spared but not before losing her sight and hearing. There may have been brain damage, too.
“Whatever people said about my baby, I wasn’t going to feel hopeless,” says Lae Lae. “Whatever the difficulties we faced I was determined to fight. My baby is my baby no matter the problems she has.
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