Do Trong Hieu, 14, is the 3,000th "heart child" of the VinaCapital Foundation's ‘Heartbeat" programme. The teenager, who suffered the added complication of congenitally dislocated knees, will have surgery next week that will put his life back on track and enable him to walk upright soon. Robin King Austin, director of VCF, tells Ha Nguyen how such heart-warming stories are being scripted by the foundation and those who support its programmes .
Inner Sanctum: What is new for VinaCapital Foundation's heartbeat programme this year?
This year, we have been more successful with our fund-raising schemes. Moreover, we have already completed over 500 cases compared with last year. This number helps bring the total to more than 3,800.
Inner Sanctum: How many children are expected to benefit from the programme this year? Where are they living? What are their parents' circumstances?
We hope to complete at least 550 cases before December 31. We help children in all provinces of Viet Nam. The number of beneficiaries depends on the data given by our partners. We also setup outreach clinics and have discovered over 5,000 children in need of surgery. We also have numerous walk-in cases, many of which are immigrants working in HCM City. These children cannot obtain assistance from their home provinces because they are currently living in the city. All of their parents are poor and live every day in fear that their child might die before they can seek help. There are so many other children who need our help!
Inner Sanctum: What has VCF done to improve cardiac and paediatric care in Viet Nam?
We have tried to take a holistic approach in helping children access care, searching for undiagnosed cases, training doctors, surgeons and nurses on better techniques to treat the patients, and providing equipment that will help cater to more cases. We are currently attempting to raise funds for Children's Hospital 1, which is building a new cardiac ICU for the heart patients. They are in need of equipment and new beds. Every new bed will allow them to perform 100 additional surgeries annually. Each bed needs a ventilator, a cardiac monitor and 10 infusion pumps.
Inner Sanctum: You have exerted tireless efforts in such charity programme since 2006. What cases involving children with heart diseases made the strongest impression on you?
The difficult cases are the ones I fight for. Not many charitable organisations will work on the difficult, urgent and expensive cases. We constantly strive to attend to the serious cases first. It is not always easy to find a heart centre willing to take on the severe cases. There are several very advanced heart centres here, but they all aim to solve as many cases as possible. A difficult case can tie up an ICU bed for a long time, which will result in fewer cases accommodated by the programme. Therefore, if we can increase the number of ICU beds, then more cases will be served. In addition, more difficult cases will be accommodated.
Inner Sanctum: Have you received any feedback from the first operated cases since the programme started nine years ago? Did these children grow up well and healthy?
Our ongoing retrospective study of almost 2,000 of our 3,800 beneficiaries shows that over 85 per cent live a normal life with no complications. Local surgeons are quite skilled now.
One of our beneficiaries from the 2007 surgeries is currently studying in the university. His name is Ho Thanh Nhan. He played sports throughout his school life. He recently joined the Celadon City Run for Heart Kids in his school. We are fortunate to have been able to keep in touch with a lot of these children. We are truly happy when the children come back to see us.
Inner Sanctum: What do you think of Heartbeat Viet Nam Ambassador Ngo Thanh Van, her initiative to raise funds to support the heart surgeries and her experience with the programme?
Van is absolute magic. Her heart is so full of love for these children. She gives us an amazing amount of her time and talent each year to save the children. She has also raised funds to save more than 1,000 children thus far. We all love her so much for what she has helped us do.
Inner Sanctum: Can you say something about VCF in Viet Nam?
I have been here in the country for 11 years. I truly love this place, and I especially enjoy working with the amazing young Vietnamese people. We still have a lot of work to do in the country. It is wonderful that the economy has substantially improved. However, there are so many poor parents in the countryside who still have no money to pay for the care of their children. Some children still do not have the means to gain access to quality care. We are always delighted when we find these children and help them before it is too late.
Thank you, Viet Nam News for helping us get the word out to the public. We would love to impress upon anyone who can donate money to help these children get the care they need to live the normal lives they deserve. — VNS