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Phan Rang, Vietnam-Michelle Dodge, Interplast Director of Finance.

Luon and his wife traveled over 40 km (24miles) from their village to be seen by the team. Luon was a corn and papaya farmer at the time of his accident. As he and his wife prepared to go to sleep, he set down his lantern on the table near his bed. While they were asleep, the wind knocked over the lantern and spilled hot oil over his chest and neck. His accident happened nearly nine months ago, and since then he has been unable to work his land because of the limited movement he has due to his burn contractures. Unable to work his land, Luon was forced to sell his property. His 16-year-old son, 13-year-old daughter and his wife all work in a local factory in order to support the family.

After his surgery, Luon told the team he could now work again and take care of cows for other farmers to once again make a living for his family. As he woke from surgery in the recovery room, he called over the translator, not for medication or for any physical complaint, but to ask her to thank the surgeons for him, to thank them with all his heart.

Ten Years with Interplast, First Interplast Trip

Phan Rang, Vietnam-Michelle Dodge, Interplast Director of Finance.

It’s amazing to meet our patients firsthand and to see all these beautiful people come to the team in need of surgery. After working with Interplast for ten years, this is my first team trip. As Interplast’s director of finance, I only have time to work on the financial aspects of Interplast. However, this experience has put the work we do into a new light, and it’s a privilege to witness where all our hard work goes. 

A Meaningful Trip

Before heading to Vietnam, Dr. Steve Garner, Interplast volunteer plastic surgeon, sent us a short email highlighting the importance his time in Vietnam would have for him. Steve is now in Phan Rang working in partnership with local medical staff, to bring reconstructive surgery to those in need:

“Vietnam will be a special trip for me. The majority of my childhood was during the Vietnam War years with agonizing war images plastered on TV, magazines, and the broken hearts of those on both sides on the conflict who suffered it in ways I cannot even imagine. I wept the day, in 1979, I received my acceptance letter to medical school because I knew I would never ever have to be sent anywhere on the planet as a combatant. To be able to go now to that same sliver of earth's Southeast Asian geography as an American citizen on a humanitarian trip is an emotional and sentinel event for me as well as a humble reminder than I am truly one of the fortunate sons.”

First Day of Surgery: Phan Rang

Phan Rang, Vietnam-Steve Garner, Interplast volunteer plastic surgeon.

Hello from Phan Rang.  Finished our first day of surgery.  Two tables in the same room.  Patients with cleft lip and palate problems, vascular malformations and complex hand deformities.   We were at the hospital for nearly 11 hours and then went back again after dinner.  All patients safely tucked in for the night!  Some bigger burn scar contracture surgery cases tomorrow. 

Now in Phan Rang

Phan Rang, Vietnam-Steve Garner, Interplast volunteer plastic surgeon.

Greetings from Phan Rang.  All is well after our long trip and our first day of work.  We saw more than 50 patients in clinic today and set up our preliminary operative schedule.  The people are lovely, warm and appreciative.  Many cleft lip/palate cases, congenital hand deformities and severe burn scar contractures.  Almost no signs around the hospital or town are bilingual; the only good one was at the radiology department, which was called "Dept of Imaginal Studies." 

What is Interplast doing in Haiti?

Interplast stands at the ready to help other professional humanitarian organizations with established contacts and experience in Haiti.  We have reached out to several of our InterAction member colleagues, such as Partners in Health (PIH) and Doctors without Borders (MSF), offering to help recruit or credential reconstructive surgical volunteers as needed.  We have also asked our own medical volunteers to consider donating their time directly to Partners in Health, Doctors without Borders or other organizations.  Many have done so.

Interplast volunteer leader Dr. Carter Dodge (photo, far left) is now serving with Partners in Health in Haiti with his Dartmouth colleagues.  Carter wrote to us yesterday, “Thanks to Interplast for preparing me to be effective in Haiti.  I am currently in Hinche in the central plateau.  We are dealing with many crush injuries, fractured pelvises, broken bones and now some renal failure as well as routine wound care.”

Other Interplast volunteers on the ground in Haiti are: Dr. David Fogarty, Dr. Scott Andrews and PACU nurse Lucy Pierce.  Additional Interplast medical volunteers have sent applications to PIH or MSF and may be sent in the future. If you know of others, please let us know. 

Future Plans for Haiti?

As Dr. Gupta said on CNN last week, one of the great health needs in a few weeks will be surgeries to help burn and injury victims.  If this is the case, Interplast wants to do whatever we can to help in the field of reconstructive plastic surgery---and in partnership with another organization with significant presence and history in Haiti (as we have none).   It would be irresponsible for us to go there independently and not have an established partner on the ground, as it would add to the chaos and would diminish the effectiveness of our efforts.  Also, the people of Haiti need emergency medical care and basic public health more than reconstructive plastic surgery at this time.

Debunking the Myth that Haiti is Hopeless

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and InterAction colleague Anne Richards, International Rescue Committee, both have great short pieces today debunking the myth that Haiti is a hopeless cause and we recommend that you read them.  Another factoid you might find interesting:  

  •  Every year, more people die from poverty related causes than the entire population of Haiti. Professor Peter Singer asks, can we get people to continue to give?

But today, our hearts are with our volunteers, InterAction colleagues and the people of Haiti.  Please do what you can to help them.

Recovering Together

Zane Picture Quang Ngai, Vietnam-Liliana Vazquez, Interplast Communications Technology Coordinator.

We walked onto the wards where we found Hoa and her child quietly sitting on the bed, the same bed they spent the night on recovering from surgery. The team made sure Hoa had her surgery first so she would be able to care of Hoai, her 2-year-old baby. As soon as we walked in the room, Hoa asked our translator to inform us that Hoai had been crying earlier because he wanted to go home. Luckily for Hoai, they were discharged a few hours later. Hoa is from a tribe that lives in the mountains a few hours away from Quang Ngai. They will return to their tribe with a new life ahead for them both, especially for Hoai, who because of his age will never have to experience the hardships of having been born looking “different." Once they reach their home, they’ll be able to continue their recovery, which as of this morning was going very well.

Photo by Zane Williams

Our Fearless Translators

DSC_1331 Quang Ngai, Vietnam-Liliana Vazquez, Interplast Communications Technology Coordinator.

So far things at the hospital, the hotel, in restaurants and everywhere in between have been going very smoothly. Unfortunately, this isn’t due to the team’s Vietnamese skills or the effectiveness of our hand motions as we speak loudly hoping it will help us communicate. It’s all due to our fearless translators, Emma, Lien and Theo (pictures above). Without them, our team would be lost, literally. Emma (pictured center), was born in Vietnam and coincidentally Quang Ngai is the hometown of both her parents. Lien, (pictured left) a nurse herself, has been volunteering with Interplast for nearly ten years. Theo (pictured right) is a second generation translator for Interplast; his mother, Dr. Nguyen Thi Hein, is an anesthesiologist and Interplast’s partner in Vietnam. A finance student at the University of Technology, Sydney, he is giving up his summer break to volunteer with our team. All three are incredibly patient, efficient and extremely compassionate toward our patients. Emma, Lien, Theo: we couldn’t do this without you. Thank you!

Vietnamese in the OR

IMG_1024 Quang Ngai, Vietnam-Rosemary Welde, volunteer OR nurse and team leader.

As we setup the operating rooms, we asked our interpreter, Emma, to write down the basic names of the instruments in English and Vietnamese and post them around the room. Our surgeons are doing their best to request instruments in Vietnamese and although this keeps the scrub nurses amused, it has proven to be very useful.

Working with our colleagues

P1050826 Quang Ngai, Vietnam-Rosemary Welde, volunteer OR nurse and team leader.

This is my third visit to Quang Ngai and it is like coming home again and working with former colleagues. It has been four years since I have been here and it was great to see “old friends."  This is a picture of the OR nurses: Ms. Hong (far left), Ms. Lieu, Interplast volunteer head nurse Beth Charvonia (pictured middle), Ms. Thai  and myself, Rosemary Welde (pictured far right).

We have already completed four cases and we are getting ready to do a fifth case. Most of the procedures this year are cleft lips and palate cases. We have one major burn case we are doing today.  We also have several cases of patients born with an extra digit on their hands. It is the first time these three local staff members have worked with the Interplast team and after Beth gave them an excellent class on setting up their tables, they are doing an amazing job. Having the ability to collaborate with our counterparts in Vietnam, sharing best practices, is one of the many reasons our time here is so rewarding.

Global Health