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Children's Entertainment

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Cao Lanh, Vietnam-Frieda Zandbergen, Interplast volunteer nurse.

It is extremely stressful on the children and their families to face the surgeries that are performed on them. Sheila and her assistant Tu were absolutely brilliant (as our beloved British counterparts would say). They were very crafty and entertained the children, doing everything short of dressing up as clowns. They made them laugh and smile. It was very rewarding to see these children play and just have fun.


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Cao Lanh, Vietnam-Amy Wandel, Interplast volunteer plastic surgeon.

I have been on over 16 Interplast trips as a surgeon and I have never seen so many kids with ptosis. Ptosis is a congenital birth defect which causes the eyelid to sag. It can cause visual impairment and, in the worst cases, blindness. It is very common here. We saw well over 20 children with bilateral and another 10 or so with unilateral ptosis. They are so debilitated by this condition they are unable to attend school. Many can’t even play with their friends without worrying about running in to something. It is very rewarding to know that by repairing their eyelids we truly have “opened their eyes” to the world.

Three Kisses

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Cao Lanh, Vietnam-Sheila Wolfson, Interplast volunteer trip support.

Minh felt like a lucky man as the owner of a full service gas station, until his tragic accident. A customer deliberately threw a cigarette into a puddle of gasoline which set him on fire. After the accident he remained in the hospital for seven days, but did not receive adequate treatment. He was then taken to a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City and remained there for 24 days. Since he had no physical therapy or splinting, he had terrible scarring and major contractures on his hands, which made them useless. Our surgeon hoped that surgery might give him a bit of movement in one of his fingers, but there was not much else we could do for him. The touching part of this story was that his wife was very affectionate and loving despite his severe deformity. She showered him with kisses when she entered the recovery room after his surgery. We have found the Vietnamese to be grateful and kind, but it has not been very common to see public displays of affection between husbands and wives, so their loving relationship of 17 years stood out.


Cao Lanh, Vietnam-Sheila Wolfson, Interplast volunteer trip support.

Tam Before surgery Tam After surgery

We could not even imagine what it must have been like for Tam, a 42-year-old man, who had endured living with his cleft lip his whole life. Tam worked as a handyman but said he was extremely poor and until this year, he could not afford to make the trip to have this life changing surgery.  He and his wife of 13 years were thrilled the Interplast team would perform his cleft lip surgery this time around.

The Nightmare Wedding

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Cao Lanh, Vietnam-Sheila Wolfson, Interplast volunteer trip support.

One of our return patients from last year was Tu, a 58-year-old woman who had severe burn contractures and very restricted movement in her neck. She had undergone one Interplast surgery last year and was all smiles now that she was accepted for an additional burn contracture release this year. Her daughter shared her story with us. While attending a wedding three years ago, she was severely burned on her head, neck and chest when a waiter accidentally dropped a “hot pot” of food on her head as she was sitting at the dinner table. When more oil was added to the flame under the pot, the heat was so intense, the waiter could no longer hold it. After her surgery last year, Tu gained a little more movement in her neck; she and her daughter were hopeful she would gain more movement this year. Her surgery went well, and she smiled when she came back a few days later to show us the results. In spite of her debilitating burns, Tu is always smiling and in good spirits.

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Cao Lanh, Vietnam-Katherine Aspesi, Interplast volunteer nurse.

I am a PACU nurse who has been on 17 Interplast team trips. During each trip I’m amazed by the amount of children who need surgery. After each case I realize that I get a lot more than I give.

After a week of surgeries, it was nice to get a little R&R in Ho Chi Minh. In addition to dodging traffic, shopping and eating ethnic cuisine, Dr. Marcus and a few other team members and I went to the War Memorial Museum. It was disturbing to see the effects of the war, but we felt we were doing a little on our medical mission to make life better for the Vietnamese children and their families.

Cao Lanh, Vietnam-Sheila Wolfson, Interplast volunteer trip support.

One of the more heart wrenching stories we heard involved Khanh, a burn patient who was accompanied to the hospital by his beautiful, yet very sad 12-year-old daughter. Seven years ago, when his daughter was five, he was pouring gasoline from a larger container into a smaller one when an electrical spark set it on flames. His entire body was burned. He quickly dove into a nearby river and was followed into the river by a neighbor who tried to help him. He was then taken to the hospital and remained there for 25 days. After his tragic accident, his wife deserted them, leaving Khanh to raise his only daughter alone. It was hard for us to tell who took care of whom, as his daughter was very attentive trying to meet his needs in the recovery room by wiping his mouth and gently stroking him. Her father sells lottery tickets for a living and told us the only reason he lives is for his daughter. Although his burns were severe, our surgeons hoped that by releasing the burn contracture in his neck, he would have more rotation and flexibility.

Look at the “Do”

Cao Lanh, Vietnam-Sheila Wolfson, Interplast volunteer trip support. Mr. Punk hairdo

Bui Em, a 5-month-old little boy with a unilateral cleft lip stole the hearts of the recovery room nurses on the team.  His big eyes and punk hairdo made them ooh and ah.   His father, Tuan, heard about the Interplast team coming to Cao Lanh through an ad on TV several months ago. Although he called the phone number listed on the screen, he did not receive a return call and was quite disappointed.  The next time he saw the ad, he decided to bring his son directly to the hospital on clinic day. He told us that he and his wife felt terribly sad for their son.

IMG_0426After he saw his son in the recovery room shortly after his surgery, he had a beaming smile from ear to ear.  Through our translator, Kim, we learned that he wished us good health and hoped we could continue to help the poor people in his country. He said words could not express his gratitude and his son’s lip repair turned out better than he could ever have imagined.  Now how rewarding is that!!

Cao Lanh, Vietnam-David Marcus, Interplast volunteer pediatrician.

Hot, Hot, Hot! Not much more to say about the city of Cao Lanh. The children and parents are wonderful and it is hard not to smile when you see the gratitude in the glowing faces of our patients. Well, maybe not all the faces are glowing all the time.

Clinic day

Clinic day
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Cao Lanh, Vietnam-Sheila Wolfson, Interplast volunteer trip support.

Early on Monday morning, our team arrived at the Dong Thap General Hospital for clinic day where we ended up screening 198 patients for surgery. For many of us it was overwhelming to see so many patients needing surgery cramped into one small location but also rewarding to know that we would be able to help many of the children and adults who made the journey to Cao Lanh. We scheduled two weeks of surgeries for patients who needed cleft lip and palate repairs, burn reconstructions and other procedures to help correct debilitating deformities.

Global Health