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Forty years after the Vietnam War ended, the “napalm girl’s” pain endures

Associated Press/Nick Ut
An iconic shot.
  • Aamna Mohdin
By Aamna Mohdin

Reporter

This article is more than 2 years old.

The image of  a young girl running naked and screaming in agony came to define the suffering of the Vietnam War.

Nine-year-old Kim Phuc had ripped off her burning clothes following a napalm attack, but her skin continued to burn. Phuc survived, but sustained burns over a third of her body.

Now living in Canada, she has been in pain ever since the traumatic event. The burns damaged her nerve endings, and affected her range of motion. It’s meant she’s not able to carry out simple tasks like extending her right arm or carry her purse on her left side.

More than 40 years later, Phuc finally has a chance to physically heal.  Jill Waibel, from the Miami Dermatology and Laser Institute, began a series of laser treatments last month, free of charge. The treatment will hopefully smooth and soften the thick scar tissue that surrounds her left arm, her neck up to her hairline and down almost her entire back. If successful, the laser treatment will also ease the pain Phuc experiences on a daily basis.

Associated Press/Nick Ut
Phuc shows her severe burns

Phuc told the Associated Press that she had thought the pain would only end when she died and reached heaven. The laser surgery is “heaven on earth.”

Napalm is a jelly like substance that sticks to its victims and can burn more than 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius) once ignited. Since its controversial use in the Vietnam War, UN members signed a treaty to protect civilians from the use of “cruel and inhumane weapons” such as Napalm against civilians.

Associated Press photojournalist Nick Ut, who took the famous photo that went on to win him the Pulitzer Prize, was also there as Phuc started treatment. The pair have remained close over the years—Phuc calls him “Uncle Nick.” She told the AP: “He’s the beginning and the end,” adding, “He took my picture and now he’ll be here with me with on this new journey, new chapter.”

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