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Compassionate healthcare and purposeful innovation for Cambodia’s children

Hope Reunites A Family


Fire tears apart a Cambodian family but hope reunites them

A moment changed four-year-old Charya’s life forever.

The little boy from Siem Reap is recovering after a horrific field fire burnt 60% of his body and claimed the life of his mother.

Charya almost didn’t survive, but the quick-thinking actions of his father and AHC saved his life.

The day his life changed

In April 2019, Charya was travelling with his Mum, Arun, and Dad, Ngeth, on a cart drawn by a cow on the outskirts of Siem Reap. His parents are farmers and normally took trips like this, as they travelled from the field to home.  

His Dad veered into a field to take a dirt road and could see it was largely burnt, which farmers usually did to regenerate the earth. But he didn’t realise a simmering fire still burned beneath.  

As soon as the cow’s hoof touched the scorched earth, it bolted, overturning the cart.

It gave the family no time to react and they fell on the blistering hot field.

Clinging to hope

Charya’s Dad managed to pick himself up and leapt into survival mode, trying to pluck his wife and child from the simmering fire.

“It was very tough, no one else was around and I was by myself. I was trying to move my wife and son separately way from the fire beneath, which took 30 minutes,” Ngeth said.

With workers still on lunch, the place remained deserted.

After a great struggle, Ngeth finally managed to pull them out. People started returning to the field and after hearing their cries, rushed to help.

They found a nightmare situation. Charya and his Mum’s skin was red, blackened, peeling and excruciatingly painful. No water was nearby to cool them off. The pain was unbearable.

Ngeth bundled his son on the back of his motorbike and sped to the health center. While helpers placed Charya’s Mum in a hammock as she couldn’t sit properly on a bike, and also raced her to the centre. As their severe injuries worsened, Charya moved from the center to the Satellite Clinic and then to AHC for urgent medical attention. His Mum moved to Siem Reap Provincial Hospital before being referred to a hospital in Phnom Penh.

Charya receiving the best of care at AHC for burns which covered 60% of his body.

Rushed to AHC

Charya’s body’s felt like it was on fire. Crying and in immense pain, he was admitted straight to AHC’s intensive care unit where staff immediately sprayed his whole body to treat the burn.

Charya was intubated and given morphine, painkillers and medicine for bacterial infections as well as an antibiotic cream for his wounds. His dressings were changed every two days.

His skin grafts started a few weeks later – but it began regrowing back black – because of the severity of his burns. Charya experienced much for a child in a short space of time. He was never left alone, under the watchful eye of his grandmother and father as well as the specialist, compassionate care he received at AHC.

More than medicine: treating health inward and outward

A grandmother’s love: Charya’s grandmother Boproek prepares nutritious meals for her grandson while he’s recovering in hospital, following AHC’s diet plan.

Charya’s treatment requires more than medication. A holistic, nutritious diet is pivotal for his survival – and long-term recovery. It takes a lot of energy for burns patients to heal.

Most importantly, they need to be put on a nutrient-rich diet which is high in protein and calories to boost their immunity, skin regrowth, and prevent infections.

Soon after Charya’s arrival in ICU, AHC’s Nutrition team stepped in to work out a diet plan with his family, where he started eating special porridge and soup before moving to solid foods involving fresh vegetables and fruit, beef, chicken, eggs and rice.  

“We started cooking demonstrations with his grandmother, Boproek, and taught her how to make three different nutritious, easy meals a day for Charya because he had lost a lot of nutrients from the burn – so we improved his diet to help his skin heal faster and for his well-being.” – AHC’s Nutrition Team Leader Phannsy Sroeu

As a result, Charya’s weight increased to 10.9 kilograms at last weigh in.

“It helped a lot and after I started making high protein meals, I could see his skin glowing better than before and it was no longer black. Before, I didn’t know how to prepare these kinds of meals with lots of vitamins and protein but now I find it easy and Charya likes the meals I prepare,” Boproek said.

In turn, it also boosted his alertness and energy.  

AHC’s Nutrition Team Leader Phannsy Sroeu guides Boproek on how to prepare nutrient-rich meals, which are high in calories and protein, for her grandson.

Nutrition in Cambodia

Malnutrition rates among Cambodian children under five years are some of the highest in the region, with 32 percent of children being too short for their age and 10 percent of children not weighing enough for their height. Improper feeding, poor water, sanitation and hygiene, poverty and mother’s lack of education are among the main reasons for children being undernourished.

AHC provides high quality specialist care combined with nutritional, social work, and physiotherapy services, to meet the whole needs of a child.

In Charya’s case, Phannsy would also regularly come and monitor his weight and condition and give advice to the family about nutrition and a diet plan.

The high risks are if he doesn’t stay on a diet plan, his skin won’t regrow properly and he’ll become malnourished and susceptible to infections.

“Since AHC’s nutritional team started working with Charya’s grandmother on a diet plan, he has been eating and drinking well and looks happy when he’s talking with her and his father,” Phannsy said.

Charya’s grandmother enjoys preparing nutritious meals for him and seeing how it helps with his recovery and skin regrowth.

Life after tragedy

When Charya and his family’s lives turned upside down, they found it hard to imagine what tomorrow may look like. Tragically, Charya’s Mum succumbed to her injuries and passed away in the hospital in Phnom Penh. His Dad gently broke the news later to the little boy, who quietly processed it all.

Feelings of emotional and financial stress threatened to trap the family, leaving them uncertain about their future and how’d they survive. Throughout the traumatic ordeal, AHC has stood by them, giving them the specialist care, emotional, financial and nutritional support they desperately needed.

“I’ve been so happy with the good nursing care at AHC because we are poor and they treated us with compassion and without charge – we also really appreciate the social services and financial support,” Boproek said.

Now, Charya’s strength and appetite are returning and his burns are healing, the family see a glimmer of hope and want to move forward.

“I feel very bad thinking about the big problems with my wife and son, and also sad. I don’t want to focus on the past and I’m thinking now about my son and how to take really good care of him and earn money to support him. I will go back to the farm to plant trees, as it’s the rainy season soon. Sometimes I grow rice. The grandmother will help us too,” Ngeth said.

After almost two months at AHC, Charya has recently been discharged so he and his family can resume their daily lives. During his hospital stay, his family now feel well prepared to properly take care of Charya’s needs and cook him nutritional meals, so he can become stronger and help with skin regeneration.

Charya and his family will return do follow-up checks at AHC, so staff can monitor his condition.

Ngeth is sad about his past but focusing on the future and fully supporting his son.

Ways You Can Help

Ongoing support from donors and volunteers allows us to continue to deliver high quality medical care to children affected by disease and poverty in Cambodia.