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IMG_1495 Quang Ngai, Vietnam-Liliana Vazquez, Interplast Communications Technology Coordinator.

Linh is four years old and very studious. She came to the hospital to be evaluated with her backpack on and ready to head to school as soon as our team scheduled her surgery.  Linh was born with ptosis, a congenital birth defect which causes the eyelids to sag and could interfere with vision development.  A day before surgery, patients are told not to have any food or water until after their procedures.  When Linh awoke after her surgery she was very hungry, so our coordinator/translator Theo (pictured with Linh) gave her some bread from the team’s break room.  Linh loved the bread.  When she returned two days later to have her eye checked and bandaged removed, the only way Theo could talk her into letting the surgeons examine her eye was by bribing her with more bread.  Once she was cleared by the doctors, Linh took her bread, threw on her backpack,waved goodbye and left with her father straight to school.  It was rewarding to witness that with one simple surgery Interplast played a critical role in making sure Linh’s studies are never affected because of the condition she was born with. 


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

Quan’s family happened to bring their adorable 1-year-old son to the hospital a few days after all patients had already been evaluated and scheduled. Luckily for Quan, who came to be known by some of us as “the baby with the cute sweaters”, a patient had just canceled his cleft lip surgery for the following day. After ensuring Quan was healthy enough to undergo surgery, the team gladly added him to the schedule. Here are two pictures I took when we added him to the schedule and a day after his surgery, looking adorable as ever in the most fashionable sweaters we saw on any patient.

Tan Tho After Surgery

_DSC6036 Quang Ngai, Vietnam-Liliana Vazquez, Interplast Communications Technology Coordinator.

Tan Tho’s surgery was one of the longest procedures the team performed during our trip.  His nearly six-hour surgery consisted of placing a skin graft taken from his leg onto his neck to release his neck contracture.  When one’s body is burned the skin contracts in an effort to close the wound.  When not treated correctly, these wounds become contractures which can lead to deformities. In Tan Tho’s case, his neck contracture kept his head tilted to the side and his mouth partially open.  After his surgery and with medical clearance, Tan Tho continue his recovery at home under the care of his parents.  A week later he returned to hospital to have his dressings changed by the team.  The improvement in Tan Tho’s posture was undeniable; he could now hold his head up straight and fully open and close his mouth.  As the surgeons removed his dressings, Tan Tho asked to be given a mirror so he could see his skin graft.  Despite the functionality a skin graft can offer a burn patient such as Tan Tho, they are difficult to look at so soon after surgery.  Tan Tho didn’t seem to mind this fact; he wanted to see and understand his surgery.  After handing him a mirror, he took one look, thanked the team and without saying another word allowed them to once again cover his graft so it could continue to heal. 

Photo by Zane Williams

More Stories from Quang Ngai

Quang Ngai, Vietnam-Liliana Vazquez, Interplast Communications Technology Coordinator.
I’ve been back from Vietnam for two weeks now and as I sort through photographs I feel increasingly privileged to have had the opportunity to witness the work Interplast does first hand.  With that in mind I wanted to share a few more patient stories that stand out in my memory as I revisit the two inspiring weeks I spent in Vietnam.

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 towards 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 OR’s 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 and several 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 and share best practices is one of the many reasons our time here is so rewarding.

Mother and child

_DSC4794 Quang Ngai, Vietnam-Liliana Vazquez, Interplast Communications Technology Coordinator.

Very calm and still Hoa and her two-year-old child waited in the back of the room to be seen. Having been born with a cleft lip herself, Hoa promptly brought her child in to have his corrected as well. To her delight, her son was found fit for surgery. However, in the process, our surgeons noticed she too could benefit from a cleft lip revision. It is rare we get to help two generations in one family. In this case, on surgery day, we’ll have the unique opportunity to do so.          Photo by Zane Williams

Tan Tho

_DSC5213       Photo by Zane Williams

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

Tho is 22-years-old, he stood out from others in the room, not because of his age, nor because of his burn contracture but because of his long black hair. Tho was 14-years-old when he fell into an open cooking fire while trying to boil water for his family.  Today, he works at a prawn farm in a different district from Quang Ngai. However, due to the upcoming Vietnamese New Year, he has been in town visiting family when he heard about our team’s arrival. After a careful evaluation the team decided to schedule Tho for surgery to release his neck contracture.

Patiently Waiting

Photo by Zane Williams        Photo by Zane Williams

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

It took a total of nine hours for the team to evaluate all patients and have a brief consultation with the parent of each child. We marveled at how patient the families were during the wait, many of whom had arrived hours before the team began evaluations. Most children spent their time playing and chasing each other around the room while others spent their time fast asleep in their parent’s arms.

Clinic Day

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

As we made our way up the stairway to the second floor of the hospital we could hear a distant murmur intensifying with every step we reached.  We entered a bright lit room filled with over 100 families and their children. Today was our first day at the hospital, and as such the team sees all patients to determine which are fit for surgery. Each child was carefully evaluated by a team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, a pediatrician and nurses.

One bus ride away

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

After more than 20 hours of travel we finally arrived in Dan Nang; Vietnam’s fourth largest city. With only one bus ride to go, our 18 member team was three short hours away from arriving in Quang Ngai, our final destination. 

Armed with 29 boxes of medical supplies and equipment, our team will spend two weeks providing free reconstructive surgery for those in need in the area. Despite the many hours of travel, day-old clothes and the exhaustion of carrying 29 boxes on and off conveyer belts we are all looking forward to our time in Quang Ngai.

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