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Melamine kids set to go under the knife

TAN Li, a Henan Province native who runs a small milk-tea store in Shanghai, was sitting on a hospital bed yesterday morning, holding her 17-month-old son as he awaited an operation to remove a kidney stone.

Though the boy, Wang Baocai, was playing happily, his mom couldn't hold back her tears. Dad had to do the talking.

"I can't imagine the baby's suffering," he said. "He must feel pain, as he repeatedly rolls around in bed at night and cries," Wang Gang told a Shanghai Daily reporter. "We worry about his disease so much that my wife cries every day."

The parents, both 30, said a kidney stone was detected in their son in September during a large-scale screening prompted by China's milk scandal.

Baby formula tainted with the industrial chemical melamine produced by Sanlu Group and 21 other Chinese dairy makers has been linked to the deaths of at least six children and kidney and urinary tract problems in nearly 300,000 others. The dairy makers have been ordered to contribute to a 1.1-billion-yuan (US$161 million) fund to compensate the victims and cover treatment costs.

Local health authorities screened more than 100,000 infants in Shanghai after the scandal erupted. Around 2,700 children were found to have kidney or urinary track trouble, and 50 were hospitalized and later released.

Health officials said there are now only five significant cases remaining.

Wang and Yan Yun, an 18-month-old girl from Anhui Province, are the only two requiring surgery for kidney stones at present. They will receive free procedures today at Fudan University Children's Hospital.

"My daughter started to drink Sanlu formula soon after she was born," said Yan Chaoli, a local fish seller and the father of Yan Yun. "She can't express her suffering, but I know she must feel discomfort because she wakes up at night and cries."

Wang and Yan were hospitalized on Wednesday after a diagnostic group made up of leading pediatricians confirmed the need for surgery. Hospital officials said doctors will use minimally invasive techniques on the two infants to control trauma and ensure a faster recovery.

They will employ special equipment to break up the stones and allow the material to be excreted naturally. Doctors expect the children to be discharged in a few days.

Though the surgeries are not major operations, the parents of the children are worried nonetheless. And they are especially concerned about the future.

"My wife and I are sad all the time," Yan said.

"The only thing in our minds is that our daughter can recover quickly and grow up to be a healthy child."


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