Disabled 2-year-old orphan Roth Arun boarded an airplane bound for the US for medical treatment Thursday evening after a cliff-hanger of bureaucratic battles that lasted until only hours before his departure.
“I’ve delivered at least a couple hundred babies and taken care of pediatric patients,” said Dr Paul Heinzelmann, shortly before he departed with Roth Arun for the US. “But, it’s going to be a long flight for both of us. I don’t have any children of my own, so changing diapers is going to be quite a challenge,” he said earlier Thursday.
Ellen McDaniel of Children’s Medical Mission will receive Roth Arun in New York and take him to Boston, where doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital plan to assess and treat Roth Arun’s large facial growth and fit his left arm and leg for prostheses.
At 8 am Thursday, representatives of the NGO American Assistance for Cambodia were at the Ministry of Social Affairs attempting to secure the final documents for Roth Arun’s voyage. Toch Chay, chief of the Cabinet at the ministry, explained that Minister Ith Sam Heng would sign a letter instructing the Nutrition Center to allow Roth Arun to go only if he first had letters of release from both the Nutrition Center and the Department of Children’s Welfare.
However, Toch Chay helped to orchestrate a meeting of all necessary parties at the Phnom Penh Department of Social Affairs, where both letters were signed.
“I would like to help in ways that will not cause problems later, by following the law,” Toch Chay said.
Chea San, director of the Phnom Penh Social Affairs Department said: “I will agree to everything, because [retired King Norodom Sihanouk] has shown his support.”
Mao Sovadey, chief of the Department of Children’s Welfare, acquiesced, but complained that the process had been inverted from the conventional bottom-up path: From an NGO through an orphanage to the ministries and upward to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Roth Arun’s case was brought to the attention of Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Norodom Monineath by Bernard Krisher the director of AAfC and publisher of The Cambodia Daily, and later Deputy Prime Minister and co-Minister of Interior Prince Norodom Sirivudh who signed a letter helping to secure the 2-year-old’s passport. The case was also taken up by Deputy Director General of National Police Sau Phan.
At the departure gate with Roth Arun in his arms, Heinzelmann wondered whether the toddler’s trip would significantly alter his future. “Is he going to be back in the Nutrition Center, but with a prosthesis?”
“I don’t know,” he said, in answer to his own question.
(Additional reporting by Ian Neubauer)