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'Napalm girl' receives laser treatment, 40 years on

Lasers to treat Vietnam's napalm girl
Photo: Lasers to treat Vietnam's napalm girl
A new laser treatment is giving hope to scar tissue victims, including Kim Phuc, whose body was burned by Napalm in the Vietnam War.

In the photograph that made Kim Phuc a living symbol of the Vietnam War, her burns aren't visible - only her agony as she runs wailing toward the camera, her arms flung away from her body, naked because she has ripped off her burning clothes.

More than 40 years later she can hide the scars beneath long sleeves, but a single tear down her otherwise radiant face betrays the pain she has endured since that errant napalm strike in 1972.

Now she has a new chance to heal - a prospect she once thought possible only in a life after death.

"So many years I thought that I have no more scars, no more pain when I'm in heaven. But now - heaven on earth for me!" Phuc said upon her arrival in Miami to see a dermatologist who specialises in laser treatments for burn patients.
Late last month, Phuc, 52, began a series of laser treatments that her doctor, Jill Waibel of the Miami Dermatology and Laser Institute, says will smooth and soften the pale, thick scar tissue that ripples from her left hand up her arm, up her neck to her hairline and down almost all of her back.

Even more important to Phuc, Waibel says the treatments also will relieve the deep aches and pains that plague her to this day.

With Phuc are her husband, Bui Huy Toan, and another man who has been part of her life since she was nine years old: Los Angeles-based Associated Press photojournalist Nick Ut.
"He's the beginning and the end," Phuc says of the man she calls Uncle Ut.

"He took my picture and now he'll be here with me with this new journey, new chapter."

It was Ut, now 65, who captured Phuc's agony on June 8, 1972, after the South Vietnamese military accidentally dropped napalm on civilians in Phuc's village, Trang Bang, outside Saigon.

Ut remembers the girl screaming in Vietnamese, "Too hot! Too hot!"

He put her in the AP van where she crouched on the floor, her burnt skin raw and peeling off her body as she sobbed.

He took her to a hospital before returning to the Saigon bureau to file his photographs, including the one of Phuc on fire, that would win the Pulitzer Prize.

Phuc suffered serious burns to more than a third of her body, leaving her with scars almost four times as thick as normal skin.

Waibel has been using lasers to treat burn scars, including napalm scars, for about a decade, but offered to donate her services when Phuc contacted her for a consultation.

The type of lasers being used on Phuc's scars originally were developed to smooth out wrinkles around the eyes, Waibel says.

Once sedatives have been administered and numbing cream spread thickly over the treatment area, lasers heat the skin to the boiling point to vaporise scar tissue.

The procedure creates microscopic holes in the skin, which allows topical, collagen-building medicines to be absorbed deep through the layers of tissue.

Waibel expects Phuc to need up to seven treatments over the next eight or nine months.


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