Phan Thi Kim Phuc was the subject of a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph taken by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut. As a result of the photo, Phuc became known around the world as the “Napalm Girl.”
For 43 years, Phuc has suffered excruciating pain caused by a napalm blast that had taken out her home village of Trang Bang. In the photograph shot by Ut, Phuc is nine years old. She is naked and wailing. Her skin is melting off of her body.
The photograph was one of the many harrowing images that began to change public opinion about the Vietnam War. It was shot on June 8, 1972, the day that the Vietnamese village of Trang Bang was bombed. In the photo, Phuc and members of her family are seen running away from a cloud of dark smoke. They are running in terror and agony.
Phuc had torn off her clothes because they were on fire. Napalm was still sticking to her skin. The substance would not come off and it burned through her flesh, leaving scars that covered a third of her body, four times the thickness of normal skin. Most people who experience burns over ten percent of their bodies had died, reports the Associated Press on Oct. 26.
Now Phuc is undergoing a series of laser surgeries that will change her life. She cries tears of joy. She thought that she would have to wait until she died to be scar and pain free.
Miami dermatologist, Dr. Jill Waibel is donating her services and administering Phuc’s treatments over the course of nine months. The treatments, used primarily to smooth out wrinkles around the eyes, will in Phuc’s case be used to melt her skin to a point where it can heal. After heating her skin to boiling point, Phuc’s scars will be ablated and then, collagen-building treatments will be applied.
Nick Ut and Kim Phuc have kept in touch throughout the years. In fact, Ut is documenting Phuc’s healing process. “He is the beginning and the end,” says Phuc. “He took my picture and now he’ll be here with me with this new journey…new chapter.”
It’s a dream come true for Kim Phuc, who is happy to have Nick Ut, a man she considers to be her uncle, by her side during the process. Soon the pain from nerve damage that she has suffered all these years will be eased. She’ll experience increased range of motion and the hardened scars she carries will be softened and smoothed with treatment. It’s “heaven on earth for me!” she says.
Phuc also works with the U.N. She founded an organization called Kim Foundation International, a charity that helps children of war. Her organization helps by building hospitals, schools and homes for orphaned children. “I look at that picture and I just wish and dream that I never see another child suffer like that,” she says.