Kim Phuc, who was girl from iconic Vietnam photo, begins new treatment

Laser treatment for Vietnam War napalm attack victim
Laser treatment for Vietnam War napalm attack victim

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    Laser treatment for Vietnam War napalm attack victim

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Laser treatment for Vietnam War napalm attack victim 02:53

Story highlights

  • Kim Phuc is well-known as the terrified young girl in an iconic photo from the Vietnam War
  • A Miami doctor is treating her scars with laser therapy

Miami (CNN)You've probably seen the iconic photograph: a little girl, naked and crying, running on a road after a napalm bomb attack during the Vietnam War.

The girl in the famous 1972 picture was badly burned but survived. If you met her today, Kim Phuc's warm smile would grab your attention before you even noticed her scars. You also would never know that she is in constant pain -- from the moment she wakes up in the morning, to her last thought at night.
"I just pray God help me and I dreamed that one day in heaven, I don't have any more pain and anymore scars," Phuc says. "But now, right now, it's my dream come true. Heaven on Earth for me ... and I'm so happy, happy, happy."
    Phuc has found new hope, thanks to fractional ablative laser therapy. Dr. Jill Waibel, a board-certified dermatologist in Miami, says the treatment, which was initially developed to reduce wrinkles, can help burn and trauma patients heal their scars.
    "We're literally going to steam the scar tissue away," she said. "And those little, tiny holes where we vaporize the scar, the body will heal as normal skin."
    The results, Waibel said, go beyond what the eye can see.
    "The first improvements we usually see in our burn and trauma patients is their itching and their pain is decreased," she said. "Then a few weeks after the laser, you'll see an improvement in the texture (of the skin.) It'll get smoother. And somewhere in between there, range of motion will improve. We have patients that call us literally the next day to say, 'I can move my arm. I haven't been able to do this in 10 years.' "
    Each session costs from $500 to $3,000, and Waibel said the treatment isn't typically covered by insurance. She is giving Phuc the treatments for free.
    "She's such a beautiful soul," Waibel said. "She's so spiritual, and for someone that's been through her journey, I was really very impressed with her."

    'I hated my life'

    Phuc's journey hasn't been easy. For years, she struggled to come to terms with what happened. She was just 9 years old when the napalm disfigured parts of her body. Her childhood was destroyed.
    Girl in iconic Vietnam photo still carries scars
    vietnam photograph girl kim phuc cm_00001506

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      Girl in iconic Vietnam photo still carries scars

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    Girl in iconic Vietnam photo still carries scars 02:28
    "My heart was full of hatred, I hated my life," Phuc said. "Every time I look at my scar, I hated it and every time I got the pain ... I couldn't bear that. I almost give up, but then it's amazing turning point, when I prayed, 'God, please help me.' "
    Phuc, who became a Christian at 19, turned to her faith to heal her emotional wounds.
    "(Faith) has helped me, give me thankful heart," she said. "To be here in this life and to have another chance in my life, it's a miracle. I was supposed to be dead."
    But the physical pain associated with the scars remains. Phuc stopped taking pain medication 14 years ago, choosing instead to work through the pain by going for a walk, talking on the phone or even singing a song.
    "I learned to distract my mind when the pain comes. I never focus on the pain," she said. "I just learned that when I focus on the pain, it gets bigger and bigger and bigger. I stopped thinking about that."

    A chance for a new life

    Phuc is married and has two grown sons. She and her husband claimed asylum in Canada more than 20 years ago, and they travel the globe for the Kim Foundation International. Its mission is to help children touched by war. The pain makes traveling difficult.
    "It's not really fun, you know, when I just endure with the pain," she said.
    So far, Phuc has had two laser therapy sessions at Waibel's Miami office. She has several more to go. Even though the entire treatment will probably take a year to complete, she has already noticed some improvement in the texture of her skin. She's excited about the possibility of a pain-free life.
    "I really want to get better, better in my life in order I can do more things," Phuc said. "I look forward in the future, one day ... no pain. That will be wonderful."