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Girl in Iconic Vietnam War Photo Brings Message of Hope
Date:9/10/2009

Kim Phuc, now 46, survived extensive napalm burns to help today's burn survivors

THURSDAY, Sept. 10 (HealthDay News) -- It's a photo that many credit with helping to end the Vietnam War: A 9-year-old girl, naked and in obvious pain, runs through a street after suffering napalm burns over much of her body.

What the iconic photo -- snapped in 1972 by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut -- doesn't show is the girl's struggle to survive and thrive in the aftermath of that day.

Now 46 years old, Kim Phuc Phan Thai (Kim Phuc to most) spoke recently at a conference of burn survivors and burn care specialists in New York City on the physical and psychological struggle that she went through over the ensuing decades.

"Sixty-five percent of my body got burned," she said in an interview with HealthDay. The third-degree burns left her face untouched but sheared off every layer of skin on her back and left arm, leaving a legacy of permanent scars and recurring pain.

"I should be dead," Phuc said. "I got burned so deep I had to do skin grafts -- mostly from under my leg -- from the 35 percent of my skin that was OK. And from the beginning to the end, including physical therapy, I was in the burn unit in Saigon for about 14 months. And I had 17 operations. But I was spared," she added.

"So now I think, 'I cannot change something that happened to me already. But I can change the meaning."

Phuc has come far and is now a public speaker, peace activist, United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, child welfare advocate, married mother of two, and inspiration to burn injury survivors worldwide. She lives in Toronto, her home since seeking political asylum in Canada in the early 1990s.

Phuc's message of hope resonated with many of those at the conference, held earlier this month by the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, the nation's largest non-profit support and advocacy group for burn
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