Sitting across from us in his simple house, Do Quang Hanh answers his phone every 10 minutes. They are from strangers seeking his advice on how to apply for free treatment at hospitals or happily informing him they had succeeded in the task.
Santa claus Do Quang Hanh Photo: Tuoi Tre
A retired teacher in Ben Tre Province in the Mekong Delta, Hanh has helped more than 600 poor patients apply for a partial or full waiver of surgery fees.
Major hospitals like the Cardiology Institute, Pediatric Hospital, and Cho Ray in Ho Chi Minh City have welfare programs for poor patients in serious condition who require expensive surgeries.
This is based on patients’ economic background, which has to be confirmed by local authorities. But for people living from hand to mouth and with a seriously sick relative to take care of, filling out the plethora of documents required is almost impossible.
Twenty years ago, when Hanh was still working for the Ben Tre Province Child Protection Fund, he realized this was a major problem and started to take action.
“I would instruct patients on hospital admission and documentation, get their addresses, and go to their places to verify their backgrounds myself.
“After returning, I would write a letter describing their difficult situation and send to hospitals along with application forms.”
Eighteen years of such work means major hospitals and their staff now trust Hanh.
Trinh Ngoc Mai of the HCMC-based Cardiology Hospital says for instance: “I have known him since he was at the Ben Tre Child Protection Fund. Because of his wholehearted support and tireless efforts to help the poor, we can trust him when considering waiver or reduction of fees.”
In some cases, hospitals ask Hanh to do a check for them even after getting confirmation from local authorities.
“He is my second father,” Nguyen Thi Thao, 31, of Ben Tre says of Hanh who helped get her heart-surgery fee reduced by VND62 million (US$3,180).
After being told by doctors she needed a major heart operation costing VND80 million three years ago, Thao decided to live with her disease since the amount was beyond her reach.
The illness had almost destroyed her health and sapped her will to live when she met her savior.
Many poor patients die of poverty rather than illness. Luckily for some of them, there is hope with people like Hanh around.
He sometimes has to borrow money from his wife or friends to fill up his motorbike, usually to make another trip to a patient’s house.
But that has not stopped him from planning for his next project -- providing free lunch for homeless and needy people.