Vaccinated KC-area man survives Cambodian genocide, now fighting COVID on ventilator

Missouri

LEE’S SUMMIT, Mo. – The family of a man who got his Johnson & Johnson vaccination said he’s fighting for his life in a Lee’s Summit hospital.

He survived the Cambodian genocide decades ago, but now his family is unsure if he’ll be able to survive COVID-19 without some extra help.

They’re like many families across the country who are at a loss for what to do. Their dad not only had COVID-19 last year but got vaccinated and now is struggling on a ventilator.

Kent Sar began his life in Cambodia.

“He’s against all odds,” his daughter Kennette Pen said.

He fled the country with his wife and kids during the killing fields in the 1970s. Sar’s father was killed, and he tried to get his family out. His family said they lived for a time in a refugee camp, and his father fought alongside American soldiers in the Vietnam war.

“Through that journey, he lost four siblings. He also had to bury two of his first-born sons. He survived being in torture and concentration camps, but he never lost sight of freedom and getting to the other side,” Pen said.

The other side eventually was America. Here he enjoyed life and watched his kids and grandkids grow. Now, he’s 70 years old and is fighting for his life against COVID-19.

“No one deserves to die this way,” Pen said.

Sar had COVID-19 back in 2020, and in March he got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. In September, he suffered a breakthrough case, which put him in the hospital and eventually intubated.

“We need another chance. We need a chance on ECMO,” Pen said.

“We’re keeping the fight for him now,” his son Socheate Kan said.

His kids said they believe their father could have a chance at life if he got treatment with an ECMO machine. It stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. The machine gives blood oxygen without having to use the lungs. Prior to COVID-19, it was generally used for people in need of a transplant.

“We’ve got to try to think outside the box and try something experimental,” Pen said.

However, they said many of the Kansas City area hospitals that have ECMO machines denied their dad care. They hope sharing his story will show someone who can help their dad still has some fight left.

“If there’s a doctor that’s out there who’s willing to try something new – we’ll be there,” Pen said.

“We at least could say we tried everything in our power to give him the opportunity. If it doesn’t work, at least we tried and we can live the rest of our lives having that peace of mind that we did everything we could to help,” Kan said.

The family said the major point of concern with doctors is his age. His daughter said there are cases in which someone her father’s age has survived thanks to an ECMO. They are hoping someone will give him the chance to keep fighting.

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