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Doctor returns arm bones to wounded Vietnamese soldier

Nearly 50 years after he performed the lifesaving surgery, a doctor has a memorable reunion with his former patient.
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Chiara O. Scuri, July 8, 2013 8:02:04 AM

During fierce fighting between American soldiers and Viet Cong in October 1966, Nguyen Quang Hung got shot in the arm.

An American soldier found the young man – little more than a boy – and took him to a U.S. field hospital.

As Sky News reports, that’s where Sam Axelrad, then an army medic, saved the young soldier’s life by amputating his right arm.

“Nobody can comprehend what he saw. I certainly can’t. But, I know this – he did the right thing in helping ANYONE who came off the helicopters at his base. His policy was, ‘If they land here, we help them. No questions asked,’” Axelrad’s son writes in a blog post about his father’s journey.

Thanks to Axelrad’s quick medical decision, Hung survived.

Thanks to a rather unconventional decision by Axelrad’s medical colleagues, Hung’s arm survived as well – and nearly 50 years later he would be reunited with the remains of that arm once more.

At the time, however, the doctors removed the skin from the arm and reconstructed the bones. It was a reminder that the American medical team saved enemy lives during a brutally fought war.

Axelrad brought the arm home to Texas, where it ended up in an army-issue bag, hidden in his cupboard for many decades.

It wasn’t until 2011 that the doctor drew up the courage to look through that bag of difficult memories. That’s when he found the arm after so many years and made one final decision: that he would return the arm to its rightful owner.

Axelrad sought out the help of a Vietnamese journalist in his search of Hung. Thanks to an article printed in a local newspaper, the men found one another after so many years.

Their meeting was momentous, and more than a little strange, when the doctor took the arm from a box and handed it back to the man who lost it in battle back in ’66.

“I’m very glad to see him again and have that part of my body back after nearly half a century,” Hung told Stars and Stripes military newspaper with incredible good humour.

But what the meeting really achieved was an emotional reunion between two men who, through the bravery of one and the compassion of another, managed to live out full, meaningful lives.



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Chiara O. Scuri

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