A doctor, who kept the bones of a patient’s amputated arm as a bizarre wartime memento, has returned them to the man 47 years later.
Dr Sam Axelrad took the arm bones home to Houston, America, from Vietnam in 1966 after his medical colleagues boiled off the flesh, reconstructed the arm bones and gave them to him as a souvenir. Dr Axelrad, now a urologist, brought the arm as a reminder of doing a good deed but said he did not look at them for years because he did not want to relive his wartime experiences.
The doctor flew to Vietnam to meet the amputee, former North Vietnamese soldier Nguyen Quang Hung, today after he found the bones in a military bag in his closet in 2011 where they had sat for decades.
Mr Hung thought it was strange that a doctor would want to keep his bones as a souvenir but was happy to be reunited with his amputated arm after he was shot in the arm by American troops during the Vietnam War.
The 73-year-old said: "I can't believe that an American doctor took my infected arm, got rid of the flesh, dried it, took it home and kept it for more than 40 years.
"I don't think it's the kind of keepsake that most people would want to own but I look forward to seeing him again and getting my arm bones back."
Dr Axelrad said: "It just blew me away what was in there. That kind of triggered my thoughts of returning."
Mr Hung was shot in October 1966 during an ambush about 46 miles from An Khe, in central Vietnam. After floating down a stream to escape a fire fight, he then sheltered in a rice warehouse for three days until he was evacuated by a U.S. helicopter to a no-frills military hospital.
There, Dr Axelrad performed the amputation and Mr Hung spent eight months recovering and another six assisting American military doctors he said. He spent the rest of the war offering private medical services in the local village, and later served in local government for a decade before retiring on his rice farm.
Dr Axelrad worked hard to reunite Mr Hung with his bones, travelling to Vietnam last summer in a bid to find the man. He visited Mr Hung’s home town but did not ask after him because he assumed he would be living in northern Vietnam.
By chance the doctor met Vietnamese journalist Tran Quynh Hoa in Hanoi and she later wrote an article about his search which was published in a widely read Vietnamese newspaper.
Mr Hung’s brother-in-law read the article in Ho Chi Minh City and contacted the newspaper’s editors.