Mr. Hai is reported to be in a stable condition after the surgery at the France-Vietnam hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, and Dr. Mckinnon is happy with the results. Although the surgeon has removed other large tumors in a career spanning some thirty years, he rated the success of the operation at only 50%.
The most important goal of the operation was to remove the source or 'nidus' of the tumor to ensure it would not re-grow again. The disease is called 'neurofibromatosis' which causes large disfiguring tumors to grow on the nerves of the body. The tumors are not cancerous and are thought to be genetically inherited, though obviously the size begins to cause some major health issues.
In Mr. Hai's case the growth began when he was only a boy, starting at the base of the spine and spreading up his back and down his leg, around his thigh. The problem of removing it was not a simple one, with the growth tangling blood vessels that could have ruptured during surgery. In addition, the strain on Mr. Hai's heart from supporting blood supply to the tumor, as well as the loss of nutrients and oxygen to the growth, meant that his body was in a weakened condition. With this in mind surgeon's elected to keep Mr. Hai in the upright position during surgery.
Dr. McKinnon rather admirably waived his $12,000 fee for the operation and Mr. Hai's family were overjoyed at the success of the procedure, in part because doctors had been forced to amputate his leg below the knee in 1997 after an unsuccessful attempt to remove the tumor.
Mr. Hai told Tuoitre News, a Vietnamese website:
"It's common for people to fear death, and I'm no exception ... But when I heard Dr McKinnon had decided to come back to Vietnam one more time to give me a new life, I became more hopeful."
Dr. McKinnon recalled a previous operation in which he removed a similar sized tumor from a Michigan woman in 1999. The patient was older and in worse health than Mr. Hai, but is now leading a normal life. He told Tuoitre News :
"She survived that surgery after 50 units of blood transfusion ... was in the hospital for about six weeks, and required physical therapy for about a year."
Nonetheless, Mr. Hai's recovery will be lengthy as the surgery has left a large wound that could easily become infected. He will need multiple skin grafts and reconstruction surgeries to repair the damage, which will mean him remaining in intensive care for many weeks, not to mention months of physiotherapy to regain his health and fitness.
Written by Rupert Shepherd