Thursday, June 14, 2007

Miracle Surgery Mends Cambodian Orphan

When Scott Neeson first laid eyes on Lyda, the 13-year-old orphan was clambering over a mountain of garbage in a Phnom Penh, Cambodia slum. She was moving slowly and painfully because of a spinal deformity that left her with a severe hunchback. Still, she persevered.

Neeson and Lyda were truly from opposite ends of the world: He was a former film executive nicknamed "Mr. Hollywood" who gave up his home and Porche in exchange for a life in Phnom Penh and occasional head lice. "I've gone from Hollywood to the garbage dump, and I'm so much happier today," he explained.

Lyda "is such a loving girl," he told Early Show correspondent Hattie Kauffman. "She was living in the garbage dump. She was left there by her parents when she was five. She was fending for herself, basically."

Neeson resolved to get Lyda the medical help she needed through the charity he founded to fund three orphanages he's opened in Cambodia. But the surgery that could give her a pain-free and mobile life would cost dearly, and needed to be performed in an American hospital. Lyda needed an angel in her corner.

Enter Sumner Redstone, the chairman of Viacom and CBS Corporation, and a major philanthropist. "I had no idea how the children live in Cambodia. I mean, little girls being put out for prostitution, children living in dumps, scrounging for something to eat. The story really got to me," he told Kauffman.

Her surgeon, Dr. Robert Bernstein, feels that, without the surgery, Lyda would eventually have been paralyzed, because her bones were pressing against her spinal cord.

It's heartwarming and inspiring to read of these caring people.

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