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A Japanese nongovernmental organization in Thailand is seeking help for an ailing 18-year-old Thai girl, as funding for the costly medical treatment she needs to stay alive is rapidly drying up.

Five years ago, Bangkok slum dweller Chintana Kongmun underwent extensive surgery, receiving a heart and lung transplant from a 5-year-old girl who died in a car accident.

Although the risky surgery was successful in lengthening her life by several years, she needs constant medication to suppress her immune system so that her body does not reject her new organs.

Chintana has lived in a Bangkok slum since birth.

Her family of four used to sew handkerchiefs for a living, but had to sell their only sewing machine to help pay for her treatment.

Today, her father works as a motorbike taxi driver, while her mother is unemployed and her 15-year-old sister attends school. The family earns less than 200 baht (500 yen) per day.

After her surgery, Chintana received financial support from the Public Health Ministry, which paid for the surgery and monthly medication.

But in the wake of the Asian financial crisis that hit Thailand in mid-1997, the support came to a halt in early 1998.

The Shanti Volunteer Association, a Japanese NGO active in Thailand for over two decades, has since been partially supporting the cost of Chintana’s monthly treatments.

But SVA officials said its budget is being stretched to the limit, as her medicines, which are mostly imported, cost about 20,000 baht (50,000 yen) a month.

“This year we have given her 120,000 baht (300,000 yen) in support, which is equal to the cost of providing an education for dozens of children,” said Katsumasa Yagisawa, secretary general of SVA’s Bangkok office.

Yagisawa said funding for Chintana is becoming scarce.

“We cannot confine our help to just one girl, because there are others also suffering in the slums,” he said.

According to SVA, there are 2,000 slums in Thailand with a total population of about 2 million. Bangkok itself accounts for 1,200 of the slums, populated by around 1.2 million people.

The dense populations live under corrugated iron roofs, their ramshackle dwellings separated by tiny paths full of garbage, stale water and dog droppings. Drug peddlers and addicts are commonplace.

“We will keep working to develop the situation. We cannot be discouraged,” SVA staff member Saypin Jongcit said.

Chintana is also among those slum children having received an educational scholarship from SVA. With her good grades, she has gone on to study in a technical college, where she is majoring in household economics.

“My dream was to be a nurse, but my doctors wouldn’t allow me, saying I am too susceptible to infection. So now I think I want to work in the hotel business,” she said.

Chintana said she regrets being a burden on her supporters, without whose kindness she would have died years ago. “I feel very appreciative of my family and all the supporters. I feel that they are part of my life, and I certainly owe them,” she said.

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