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Kim Phuc Phan Thai, Napalm Girl, Now Serves to Inspire Burn Patients

Michael Santo's picture

Kim Phuc Phan Thai, the nine-year-old girl who was pictured in an iconic Vietnam War era photo running through the street naked after suffering burns from napalm, spoke recently at a conference of burn survivors and burn care specialists in New York City. She is an inspiration to burn injury survivors worldwide.

The photo of Kim Phuc Phan Thai won Associated Press photographer Nick Ut a Pulitzer prize. Now 46, she told HealthDay,

"Sixty-five percent of my body got burned. I should be dead. 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. So now I think, 'I cannot change something that happened to me already. But I can change the meaning."

Kim Phuc Phan Thai's life changed forever on June 8, 1972, when bombs fell on her hometown of Trang Bang, north of Saigon. Two of her cousins died in the bombing, but she was helped by AP photographer Ut, who helped her get medical attention at a South Vietnamese hospital.

Hearst Burn Center director Dr. Roger Yurt commented:

"Back in Kim Phuc's time, one usually would add the age of the patient to the amount of body surface that was burned in order to predict mortality," he explained. Using that formula, a 50-year-old patient with burns covering 50 percent of her body faced a nearly 100 percent chance of death.

"Today, however, that same patient would have a 50 percent survival rate -- a doubling of his or her chances," Yurt said. That's due to better anesthetics, better nutrition and respiratory care, as well as more careful monitoring of cardiac function, he said.

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