This week, Dr Naomi Shields tells Ha Nguyen about a project she volunteers for, which treats disabled children and landmine victims.
Dr Naomi Shields loves Viet Nam. She has come to the country every year since 2001 to voluntarily treat patients with damaged feet, including children and landmine victims, as part of a project run by the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society (AOFAS). At a seminar last weekend in Ha Noi, Shields joined other surgeons from the US and Viet Nam to share their knowledge and experiences of the project, which has given more than 1,000 patients a new lease on life.
Inner Sanctum: When did you first come to Viet Nam with the idea of treating disabled children and landmine victims?
I came to Viet Nam in 2001 with Dr Pierce Scranton for the first American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society (AOFAS) project.
We received effective support by Rose Nguyen, who represented the Prosthetic Outreach Foundation (POF) in Ha Noi.
Nguyen took us to Vinh Orphopaedic Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre in the central province of Nghe An, where we performed several operations.
In 2001, it was my first trip to Viet Nam and we had brought a lot of equipment for Vinh Hospital. It was overwhelming to see the patients and families waiting for us and to see the different deformities. Dr Scranton and I came together very quickly as a team and worked well with Dr Nguyen Minh Cong and Dr Ly Hong Linh. I was impressed by nurse Le Hang and her staff. I felt everyone involved was trying to take good care of the patients and were glad we had come to help. I remember being told that 1 in 100 children with a disability would be seen. I felt that for these families, it was like winning the lottery.
Inner Sanctum: How many patients will be operated on this year by surgeons from AOFAS? Where do they come from?
AOFAS has already performed surgery on 60 patients and we will do many more. In the first two weeks, Dr Kuhn Adames Mario and myself took on 29 cases at the Orthopaedic Institute, 14 at Viet Duc Hospital in the capital and 15 at Vinh. The second team will be working in Dien Bien and Thai Nguyen provinces and operating on 15 patients at each hospital.
Inner Sanctum: How do you co-operate with doctors and other medical staff in Viet Nam?
We work closely with the doctors at the hospitals and we are there when they see patients in clinic, discuss their problem and consider solutions. It is a very interactive process, with many questions asked. In the operating room, we work side by side with the Vietnamese doctors, both teaching and learning from them. We make post operative rounds with them and discuss the follow up care needed. They have our contact details so they can get in touch with us with questions in the future as well. Additionally, at each hospital we are organising an educational seminar exploring common foot and ankle problems and the surgeries that can heal them.
Inner Sanctum: How much did local medical workers learn from you and other US surgeons?
I was very pleased this year that many of the cases particularly involving tendon transfers were done mostly by the Vietnamese doctors with little assistance from us. This shows the teaching and experience over the past few years is being understood and giving the Vietnamese doctors skills to continue treating patients after we have left.
Dr Ngo Toan at Viet Duc is a very qualified surgeon. He has learned the techniques brought by the US surgeons and taught them to his staff as well.He encourages his residents and staff to work with us and learn from us too. He is a very thoughtful and caring surgeon and I am proud to call him a friend and colleague.
Inner Sanctum: How many patients have benefited from the programme over the years?
I believe that since 2001, we have operated on almost 1,000 patients and seen about 2,500 patients in clinics.
Inner Sanctum: Have they all recovered? Have you had any feedback from them?
All the patients have reportedly recovered. Most are doing well according to the Vietnamese doctors. This year, I was able to see about 15 patients who I treated in the past two years. They were all pleased with the surgery. We will operate a second time on a 24-year-old man to further correct his foot deformity.
Inner Sanctum: Could you tell us the case that has impressed you most here?
The most impressive success this year for me was the case of a nine-year-old boy with "vertical talus" deformities to his feet. His mother has the same deformities and never had treatment. His four-year-old brother has club feet. Dr Mario operated on the nine-year old, making both of his feet normal in appearance with the help of Vietnamese doctors at the Orthopaedic Institute. We then also operated successfully on his brother. This means both will suffer less pain and deformity as they grow up.
Inner Sanctum: What are your future plans in Viet Nam?
I am hoping to return later this year with Dr Scranton, who was one of AOFAS's first surgeons volunteering to work in the country. AOFAS is planning on continuing the programme and I look forward to returning to Viet Nam next summer. We are also putting in grant requests to hopefully obtain equipment for the Vietnamese hospitals that we visit. — VNS