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Set ablaze by a crazed husband, brave Hanoi woman reconstructs life

By Thuy Quynh, Huyen Vu   June 17, 2020 | 06:00 am PT
Set ablaze by a crazed husband, brave Hanoi woman reconstructs life
Dung with her two daughters. Photo by iOne/Huyen Vu.
Four years after the tragic accident, a scarred Dung is trying to pick up the threads and support her family.

Under the baking Hanoi sun, Dung, covering her face, entered her house carrying a huge box on her motorbike.

Seeing a stranger within, she paused to remove her mask,

"I hope you will not be scared," Dung said before taking off her jacket, showing a host of scars along her arms. The skin on her hands and fingers is dark and taut. Behind her mask, except for her eyes, her entire face is covered with scars. Dung has no nose nor ears.

Nguyen Thuy Dung, 26, residing in Chang Son Commune, Hanoi's Thach That District, was burnt by her violent husband on the second day of the Lunar New Year in 2016, after she told him she wanted to get divorced. After the tragedy, she never believed she would return to normal life.

Dung uses eartips to wear her face mask. Photo by VnExpress/Huyen Vu.

Dung attaches her mask to special earplugs. Photo by iOne/Huyen Vu.

Sitting in her 45-meter-square house, Dung recalled what happened over the past four years while confirming orders from her online customers. At first, she only did the job to get rid of boredom, but realized it could provide a livelihood.

Every two days, she drives over 20 km to Ha Dong District to collect products to sell. More than once, the heavy packages fell to the ground, with Dung struggling to put them back in place with her weakened hands.

After 16 surgeries, her hands cannot move or stretch normally, making simple things like using her phone or riding her motorbike difficult.

"Dung's hands are weak and tired easily. She often fell while driving, but never gave up. I am worried she will get in trouble whenever I see her hitting the streets," said her mother, Phi Thi Duyen, 61.

Dung usually starts her day by promoting her products on the Internet, seeing to all nearby deliveries herself, else using available services like Grab, etc. The job earns her up to VND7 million ($300) per month.

Whatever she does, she never forgets to cover herself up before venturing out, worrying others would be shocked by her appearance.

Looking back, with one foot nearly in the grave, and with her children unable to recognize their mother, Dung knows she is lucky.

The scars still burn, Dung sometimes rubbing them with her hands. Her latest chin operation was in 2018, costing VND150 million ($6,400), for which she received sponsorship. The 12-hour surgery helped to smooth out the rough skin near her mouth.

Dung (R) and her mother prepare for their meal. Photo by VnExpress/Huyen Vu.

Dung (R) and her mother prepare a meal. Photo by iOne/Huyen Vu.

But she could not keep her ears, which were badly burned and cut, severely affecting her hearing. To wear face masks, she has to use earplugs.

Her nose, after three operations, is placed athwart on her face with a hole in it.

"My belly and leg skin was normal, so they use it for skin grafting. They look better now as the scars were obvious before," Dung noted.

After three surgeries and a lot of practice, her hands and fingers can move normally and lift light-weight objects. Not as flexible as she used to be, Dung can cook and use chopsticks instead of depending entirely on her mother.

'I recognize your voice, Mom'

Dung's children could not recognize their mother four years ago. At the time, Thu Uyen, her first child, was four years old while her sister Ngoc Anh was 19 months.

Visiting her mother in the hospital and seeing her for the first time after the tragedy, Uyen did not dare stand close while Anh kept crying.

"I did not recognize you when you were hospitalized. But I recognized your voice, I was sad seeing you in bed. I wanted to cry, but I was afraid you would cry, so I ran downstairs," Uyen, now 7, recalled.

The family of four. Photo by VnExpress/Huyen Vu.

Four people in Dung's family. Photo by iOne/Huyen Vu.

It took longer for her sister to get used to her mother's new appearance. After one year, Anh started to let Dung play with her and now loves sleeping next to her mom.

After her husband was sentenced to 18 years in prison back in 2016, Nhung has maintained a good relationship with her parents-in-laws, who took care of her children when she was in hospital. Both Uyen and Anh still visit them.

But Nhung knows that after 18 years, she would probably refrain from contact, scared of seeing the man that nearly ruined her life.

Hoping her children could grow up normally, she takes them to the park or hangs out with them, of course, while covering herself in layers of clothing.

Yearning for a new life

Dung's mother, Duyen, knowing her story, loves her more than anyone.

She has never forgotten the sight of her daughter turning into a living torch in front of her face.

"When she was burned, I carried Ngoc Anh, using an arm to stop the fire, then I got a blanket and threw it onto her body," she recalled.

Duyen, living with a degenerative spine condition, was worried the two minors would have no parents as Dung could die, but fortunately, her tough daughter survived.

Since their income depends on Dung, the family this year received a monthly subsidy of VND1 million ($43) from local authorities. Duyen, advised to have an operation to treat her back pain, is afraid it could fail, leaving her paralyzed and unable to support her daughter.

All Duyen wants now is for Dung's skin to be stretched, especially the skin on her face, so she could gain more self-confidence whenever she ventures out.

"We still have to borrow money, but at all costs, I want my daughter to have the surgery. I need nothing as long as she is confident to go out," Duyen maintained, adding her 26-year-old daughter has a whole future waiting for her.

Dung also wants the operation on her cheeks to make her skin look better. But the VND70 million ($3,000) is out of her reach. Instead, she plans to save money for her children, or open a grocery store near her house to build a stable future.

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