AOFAS Celebrates Its 8th Surgical Outreach to Vietnam

Humanitarian project completes another successful trip

(Rosemont, IL – July 29, 2009) - An initial fact-finding trip in 2001 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 eighth mission to aid the children and adults of Vietnam, an experience that affords the opportunity to do something truly special for others. During these eight years, hundreds of Vietnamese patients have received needed corrective surgeries and 24 AOFAS members have had the honor of participating as volunteers.

The project brings national and 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 its links with the Vietnamese government, the AOFAS Overseas Outreach Project is funded through corporate and member contributions to its Outreach & Education Fund (OEF) and a cost share by POF. 

Over the span of this important initiative, surgery has been performed without charge on more than 530 children and adults with deformities and disabilities.  Due to cost and a lack of training of Vietnamese surgeons, 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, while building the surgical skills of the Vietnamese surgeons.

Participating in this year’s project were Mark P. Slovenkai, MD, of Chestnut Hill, MA, Ruth L. Thomas, MD, of Little Rock, AR, João de Carvalho Neto, MD, of São Paulo, Brazil, Naomi N. Shields, MD, of Wichita, KS, Pierce E. Scranton, MD, of Kirkland, WA 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, a village 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. These experiences left an indelible impression on the AOFAS surgeons.

Dr. Slovenkai said, “This was probably the most rewarding experience I have had as a surgeon. In northern Vietnam, I saw deformities I only read about twenty years ago: polio and untreated clubfoot. I wore surgical gowns too short, shoes too small, and I was physically hot and wet for two weeks. Vietnam was unforgettable.”

“I wanted to challenge myself, experience the cultural differences, and teach. In the process I gained understanding and was changed myself. The doctors are able to do much under challenging conditions, and the Vietnamese are warm, hard-working people. I would like to go again,” said Dr. Neto.

Completing her 4th mission to Vietnam, Dr. Thomas commented, “The Vietnamese surgeons helped me to understand how operations that we choose for specific conditions in the US, i.e. tibiotalocalcaneal arthrodesis and FHL transfers for chronic Achilles tendonitis aren’t necessarily appropriate for the Vietnamese population. Together we chose better alternatives and then worked side by side to accomplish our surgical goal.”

For patients whose best treatment plan is amputation, the POF provides a prosthesis free-of-charge and ongoing follow-up services 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. Shields, also an experienced member of the mission said, “The Vietnamese orthopaedic surgeons are very resourceful and work with less technology than is common in our own operating rooms. The surgeons there are eager to learn and try to provide the best possible care within their means.”

The AOFAS members also spent time seeing patients in the clinic and performing surgeries with the local orthopedic surgeons at Viet Duc Hospital, the major teaching institution in Hanoi. Another important part of the outreach project is an educational conference in Hanoi co-sponsored by the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society, the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation, and Viet Doc Hospital. This year’s conference, the 7th Annual Seminar on Surgery of the Lower Extremity, brought together more than 170 Vietnamese orthopaedic surgeons and medical professionals and included presentations by Vietnamese orthopaedic surgeons and the AOFAS surgical team members.  

Moreover, the project identified a need for an early detection and treatment program for children with clubfoot to avoid costly and difficult corrective surgery for older children with neglected clubfoot. Under the leadership of AOFAS member and past POF President Robert G. Veith, MD, who participated in several AOFAS-POF surgical missions to Vietnam, POF established a Ponseti treatment program in Vietnam. This program now serves children with clubfoot in four Vietnamese provinces.

Dr. Scranton was recognized in Vinh City with a medallion presented by the People’s Committee of Nghe An Province. It was an expression of appreciation for his work in starting the AOFAS project in 2002. Reflecting on his own experience, Dr. Scranton said, “I came to Vietnam to share western technology, teach and treat the disabled. In return, the Vietnamese taught me about their culture, their own Vietnamese way of operating, and their philosophy of life. In coming to change Vietnam, I myself was changed.”

For additional information or to find an AOFAS orthopaedic surgeon in your area, go to www.aofas.org

 

About POF

The Prosthetics Outreach Foundation (POF), based in Seattle, Washington, is a leader in orthopedic rehabilitation in developing countries. POF creates opportunities for children and adults in developing countries who suffer from limb loss and deformities to lead more fulfilling lives. POF emphasizes local capacity building through the training of medical professionals in developing countries 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