AOFAS Celebrates its 7th Successful Surgical Outreach to Vietnam

For release: September 26, 2008  

AOFAS and Vietnamese surgeons working in tandem
Keith Wapner, MD examines Vietnamese patient
(l-r) (back) Paul Hecht, MD, Francis McGuigan, MD, Naomi Shields, MD, Keith Wapner, MD, OEF Chair Thomas Lee, MD, AOFAS Executive Director Lousanne Lofgren.
(front) Rose Hong, Dale Blasier, MD, Ngo Van Toan, MD

Rosemont - An initial fact-finding trip in 2000 to explore the possibility of treating disabled children and landmine victims in Vietnam has grown into an ongoing, annual expedition for members of the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society's (AOFAS) Overseas Outreach Project to Vietnam. The AOFAS surgeons have recently returned from their seventh mission to aid the children and adults of Vietnam, an experience that affords the opportunity to do something truly special for others.

The project brings international orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeons on a visit that pools surgical techniques formerly only available in large western hospitals to outlying provinces in northern Vietnam. Built on early relationships with the Seattle-based Prosthetics Outreach Foundation (POF), and then links with the Vietnamese government, the AOFAS Overseas Outreach Project is funded through corporate and member contributions to its Outreach & Education Fund (OEF). 

Over the span of this important initiative, surgery has been performed without charge on more than 450 children and adults with deformities and disabilities. Due to cost, most of these patients would not have received care and corrective surgery. AOFAS members volunteer their time, pay their own way, and gain much professional and personal satisfaction.

Participating in this year's project were R. Dale R. Blasier, MD of Little Rock, AR; Paul J. Hecht, MD of Lebanon, NH; Francis X. McGuigan, MD of Washington DC; Naomi N. Shields, MD of Wichita, KS; Keith L. Wapner, MD of Philadelphia, PA and AOFAS Executive Director Lousanne Lofgren. The group included first-time participants and seasoned project veterans. AOFAS volunteers worked side by side in the operating rooms with Vietnamese orthopaedic surgeons, thus sharing knowledge and building relationships with colleagues on the other side of the world. 

Surgery was performed in orthopaedic rehabilitation facilities located in the coastal city of Vinh, south of Hanoi, Ba Vi, west of Hanoi, Hai Phong, Vietnam's third largest city, and Thai Nguyen, a village north of Hanoi.  Families, many from outlying villages, greeted the surgeons warmly and waited patiently hoping that their children would be selected for surgery. 

Dr. Blasier explained, ""The Vietnamese health care system is certainly not as advanced as our own. But it is not due to lack of hard work. The Vietnamese are incredibly innovative and industrious. But they do not have the funding, technology, equipment and continuing medical education that we tend to take for granted. The trip was most memorable for the opportunity to connect with individual Vietnamese on a personal basis. I found them warm, welcoming and friendly. Like each of us, they look forward to a good meal, camaraderie, and a fine education for their children."

A retired career military medical officer, Dr. McGuigan said, "This was the most rewarding professional experience I have had since retiring from the Navy.  During my last years in the service I cared for Marines gravely injured in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Treating those brave young men was the highlight of my naval career. Treating the Vietnamese people, the victims of another unfortunate war, made another great impression on me. Our efforts on these trips allow people half a globe away to lead a better life. The missions are as great a benefit, if not greater, to the surgeons involved. For two weeks we glimpse life in the third world and then go home, with a better perspective on what is important in life and how blessed we are. "

For patients whose best treatment plan is amputation, the POF provides a prosthesis free-of-charge to patients treated in this program. This allows many of these young children and adults to return to society able to care for themselves and their families. Dr. Hecht spoke of his feelings after this trip, "This was not a pleasure trip; it was educational, challenging, and philanthropic. Experiencing another medical system and culture was a unique opportunity. Offering care to those who would not otherwise have been receiving care was a privilege. I've no question that I received more than I gave during these two weeks.The trip was about the people; those we traveled with, those we worked with, and those we cared for."

The AOFAS members also spent time performing surgeries at Viet Duc Hospital, the major teaching institution in Hanoi. In addition to the surgical care AOFAS members provide, another important part of the outreach project is an educational conference in Hanoi co-sponsored by AOFAS, POF, and the Vietnamese Ministry of Health. This year's conference, the 6th Annual American Vietnamese Seminar on Surgery of the Lower Extremity, brought together more than100 Vietnamese orthopaedic surgeons and medical professionals and included presentations by Vietnamese orthopaedic surgeons and AOFAS members.  It also included presentations by each of the surgical team members.   

Dr.  Wapner spoke of his experience, "The experience in Vietnam was truly rewarding. Although the working conditions presented many challenges it provided a perspective on how fortunate we are to have the resources that we do in our country. We were only able to do many of the surgical cases because of the equipment we brought with us. It was enlightening to see how resourceful the Vietnamese orthopedic surgeons were in being able to accomplish what they do with these limited resources. The opportunity to work with these physicians and share ideas was intellectually stimulating. Many of the patients that we saw had polio, a disease we only read about in the USA. Applying our surgical techniques to these deformities provided for an exchange of ideas between us and our physician hosts."

Dr. Shields, who has been involved with the project since its inception, summed up the feelings of the many members who have volunteered in the seven years of the surgical outreach projects to Vietnam:
"Returning to Vietnam remains as exciting and challenging for me as the first time I went. Patient needs do not change. The surgeons there remain eager to learn and try to provide the best possible care within their means. Education and building a foundation for future learning is probably the most important part of our mission. Developing friends and having the opportunity to see a beautiful country are great additional benefits."

The AOFAS promotes quality, ethical and cost-effective patient care through education, research and training of orthopaedic surgeons and other health care providers. It creates public awareness for the prevention and treatment of foot and ankle disorders and provides leadership and serves as a resource for government, industry and the national and international health care community. The Outreach & Education Fund supports, promotes and executes the mission of the AOFAS in advancing education, research, and humanitarian endeavors. To learn more about AOFAS, please visit its Web site at  www.aofas.org.
 
The POF is a leader in orthopedic rehabilitation in developing countries. It creates opportunities for children and adults in developing countries who suffer from limb loss and deformities to lead more fulfilling lives. It emphasizes local capacity building through the training of medical professionals in the countries in which it works and the transfer of technologies that foster the local fabrication of mobility devices and their components. To learn more about POF, please visit www.pofsea.org.

About the AOFAS
The AOFAS promotes quality, ethical and cost-effective patient care through the education, research and training of orthopaedic surgeons and other health care providers. The Society creates public awareness for the prevention and treatment of foot and ankle disorders, provides leadership, and serves as a resource for government and industry as well as the national and international health care communities.​
 
About Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Surgeons
Orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeons are medical doctors (MD and DO) who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders and injuries of the foot and ankle. Orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeons use medical, physical and rehabilitative methods as well as surgery to treat patients of all ages. Relying on four years of medical school training, five years of post-graduate training and often a fellowship in foot and ankle care, orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeons perform reconstructive procedures, treat sports injuries, and manage and treat trauma of the foot and ankle.
 

Contact:
Jennifer Hicks
Public Education Manager
Office: 847-384-4379
jhicks@aofas.org