‘Napalm Girl’ Gets Laser Treatment 43 Years After Vietnam Bomb Attack

Napalm girl Kim Phuc, 52, now a Canadian citizen living outside Toronto, has started going to the Miami Dermatology and Laser Institute for laser treatment on scar tissue marring her skin. Doctor Jill Waibel, who volunteered to donate her services when Phuc sought her out for consultation, indicated that the treatments also would relieve the pain that continues to plague her.

According to ABC News, the napalm girl began a series of laser treatments on September 26, 2015, and Waibel is confident they will smoothen the thick scar tissue that covers her left hand, her arm, her neck up to her hairline, and most of her back. Along with the scarring being addressed by Waibel is the pain that worsens when the seasons change in Canada, where Phuc defected with her husband in the early 1990s.

The purpose of lasers is to boost the napalm girl’s natural collagen, the dermatologist explained. Waibel issued ABC News the following statement.

“Fractional lasers produce tiny injuries in the skin, which vaporize the scar tissue and then within a few months these areas heal with a new normal collagen.”

The value of Phuc’s treatments is $1,500 to $2,000 per session, but Waibel waived these charges when she agreed to take on the napalm girl as a patient. Phuc is expected to undergo at least seven treatments over the next eight or nine months.

Staying close at hand are Phuc’s husband, Bui Huy Toan, and Los Angeles-based Associated Press photojournalist Nick Ut, 65, who took the Pulitzer-prize winning snapshot that showed her naked and burning from napalm during the Vietnam War when she was only a 9-year-old girl. Ut photographed Phuc’s agony on June 8, 1972, after the South Vietnamese military accidentally dropped the incendiary bomb on civilians in Phuc’s village, Trang Bang, outside Saigon.

According to the Guardian, Ut still recalls the napalm drop on the village and the burning girl screaming in Vietnamese, “Too hot! Too hot!” He rushed her to a hospital, as she crouched in his A.P. van, her burned skin peeling off. Etched in Utt’s memory are her Vietnamese words for “I think I’m dying, too hot, too hot, I’m dying.”

After getting her into emergency care, Utt reported to his Saigon bureau to file his news photos, including the one of the napalm burned girl that would win the Pulitzer Prize. Ut considers Phuc a daughter with whom he stays connected through regular phone calls, and is well aware of her agony then and now.

The Guardian quotes the napalm girl speaking of the man she calls her “Uncle Ut.”

“He’s the beginning and the end. He took my picture and now he’ll be here with me with this new journey, new chapter.”

Phuc and her husband, who settled outside Toronto with their two sons, aged 21 and 18, have an interesting adjunct to their story. Nicole Dahmen, Assistant Professor for the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon, researched the napalm girl and came up with the following findings.

Phuc obtained permission from the Vietnamese government in 1986 to pursue studies at the University of Havana in Cuba. There, she befriended fellow student Bui Huy Toan, but was worried about what he would think of her scars.

After Bui’s assurance that he loved her more each time he saw the scars as mementos of her suffering, they married in 1992, and got the Vietnamese government to grant them a honeymoon in Moscow. On the return trip from their honeymoon, they fled the airplane, doing a re-fueling stop in Newfoundland, and asked the Canadian government for political asylum. With the asylum granted, the napalm girl and her husband started their new life in Toronto.

Napalm sticks like a jelly, preventing victims, even a nimble 9-year-old girl, from outrunning the heat as in a normal fire. The consequence for the napalm girl was over a third of her body burned, and such injuries often result in death.

Fox News documented this statement from the napalm girl upon her arrival in Miami for treatment.

“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!”

[Photo by Keystone / Getty Images]