Nine-year-old Ha Thanh Ly after life-changing surgery

The boy born with a ‘chicken heart’ makes full recovery following support from the VinaCapital Heartbeat Vietnam Program.

KG.phan thanh ly.0608After growing up known as the boy with “chicken chest”, nine-year-old Ly Thanh Ha has overcome extraordinary odds to survive a rare condition in which he was born with his heart outside his chest. Life was difficult for Ly growing up in the small village of Ham Ninh, on Phu Quoc, a small fishing island off the south coast of Vietnam.

While many of his friends would play football and run around as children do, Ly would struggle to even walk without getting out-of breath. This was because of a rare condition which affects only eight in every million babies born a year, and of those 90 per cent are either born stillborn or die within the first three days of life. The odds of surviving were stacked against Ly whose heart had formed outside of his rib cage and cartilage had encased it on his chest creating a bump, making the heart vulnerable to damage from any contact.

Ly’s mom told VCF, “when the doctors at the Heart Institute told me the surgery would be over three thousand dollars, I just cried and we came back to Phu Quoc. I knew there was no way we could ever  afford the surgery and thought I just had to accept that he wouldn’t  survive without the operation.”

When Ly was just two years old his father died leaving his mother to bring up Ly and his two sisters on an unstable income of just 600,00VND($28/£17.50) per month.

In 2008 the family heard the news they were all praying for when the VinaCapital Foundation contacted the family and informed them that, through the Heartbeat Vietnam Program, they had found a donor to pay for the surgery alongside matching funding from VinaCapital, which amounted to $3,438 in total.  Ly underwent open heart surgery on May 30, 2008, and after ten days of post-surgical  recovery in the cardiac ward Ly was discharged from hospital in a stable condition.

Since then his life has been transformed and the only thing to show for the ordeal he had to go through is a small scar on his chest. Speaking to his grandmother Quyen Thi Nguyen, she said that the family were overwhelmed when they heard about the donation for the surgery and that Ly was now like any other boy his age. She said: “His chest was like a chickens chest, he had to go to hospital to have check ups a number of times, but we could not afford to pay for the operation that he needed so we had to ask for help. We thought that the surgery was covered by insurance but when Ly and his mother went to the hospital the doctor told them that it only covered some of the cost but they had to pay for the rest.

They did not have the money so his mother had to fly home with him not having had the operation and she was distraught. When the family were told that they had a donor come forward to cover the whole cost of the operation we were so happy.”

“Before the surgery he would play with his friends but he was always getting tired very easily and found it hard to breathe which made him upset. Now his chest has gone back to being normal but there is still a scar there which will be there for the rest of his life. “He is much better now and after the surgery he gained weight and became a lot healthier. “He feels very happy now and is pleased he can play with his friends more. As a family we feel relieved and happy because there is now no reason to worry about him, and now he is not the main topic of the conversation.

Ha Thanh Ly 2013

Heartbeat Vietnam is a program run by the VinaCapital Foundation that funds life-saving heart operations for the most financially disadvantaged children. A recent study of heart surgery in Vietnam estimated that there may be as many as 30,000 children waiting at any given time to receive heart surgery. Many of these children will die waiting for help or may never get diagnosed. With match funding from provincial government organisations, and insurance coverage, the cost to a donor to save a child’s life with heart surgery can be as little at $1,000. As well as the support of the heart surgery cost, the VinaCapital Foundation also provided 5,000,000VND($237/£146) of family grants for Ly’s family so that they had enough money for regular check ups.

The donor also ensured that the family would be better off by agreeing to build a new house for them on the land they had previously been living on. Mrs Nguyen said: “Ly’s mother was also told that the donor would also pay for her to build a new house which cost around 20million VND. This was not something she had asked for help but it was very good news and it has made a big difference to the way we now live. Before we did not have a proper house and there were eight of us living on this piece of land.”

Heartbeat Vietnam began in December 2005 with a gift of $31,500 from the VinaCapital Group.  Since then, more than $3,000,000 has been donated by generous corporate and individual donors from Vietnam and many other countries to help poor children who need heart surgery. To help ensure that more children like Ly have the chance to survive you can DONATE NOW


Matthew Edwards
Writer: Matthew Edwards