Neeson and Lyda were truly from opposite ends of the world: He was a former film executive nicknamed "Mr. Hollywood" who gave up his home and Porche in exchange for a life in Phnom Penh and occasional head lice. "I've gone from Hollywood to the garbage dump, and I'm so much happier today," he explained.
Lyda "is such a loving girl," he told Early Show correspondent Hattie Kauffman. "She was living in the garbage dump. She was left there by her parents when she was five. She was fending for herself, basically."
Neeson resolved to get Lyda the medical help she needed through the charity he founded to fund three orphanages he's opened in Cambodia. But the surgery that could give her a pain-free and mobile life would cost dearly, and needed to be performed in an American hospital. Lyda needed an angel in her corner.
Enter Sumner Redstone, the chairman of Viacom and CBS Corporation, and a major philanthropist. "I had no idea how the children live in Cambodia. I mean, little girls being put out for prostitution, children living in dumps, scrounging for something to eat. The story really got to me," he told Kauffman.
"No one else would do the operation, it's such an intricate operation," Neeson said in explaining how Lyda ended up at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in his old hometown, Los Angeles. "It was just too complex, and Sumner was like, 'Ha! Not too complex,' the whole curmudgeon thing, and starts barking in these orders and, the next thing you know, Lyda is getting the best medical treatment in the whole world." The surgery cost upwards of $250,000.
Her surgeon, Dr. Robert Bernstein, feels that, without the surgery, Lyda would eventually have been paralyzed, because her bones were pressing against her spinal cord.
Since her arrival, Redstone has visited with Lyda and wants to continue helping Cambodian orphans. "All of these children need a lot of help," he said.
For more information about the Cambodian Children's Fund, click here.