Heroes amongst us

Emily Benson, MD (VCMC), Hoc Nguyen Van, MD (Vietnam Duc Hospital), Serge Kaska, MD (San Diego), Aubree Goodman (premed student), Ngo Van Toan, MD (Vietnam Duc Hospital), Petros Frousiakis ,MD (CMH ortho resident), Damayea Hargett ,MD (VCMC) and Mary Ragsdale,MD (VCMC).

by Jennifer Tipton

For one week, this past March five orthopedic surgeons voluntarily traveled to Hanoi, the capitol of Vietnam to assist the Vietnamese surgeons there.

Damayea Hargett MD and Emily Benson MD specializing in trauma along with Mary Ragsdale MD specializing in joint replacement surgeries such as hips and knees are all orthopedic surgeons at VCMC.  Emily went last year to accompany Dr. Serge Kaska another orthopedic surgeon based in San Diego who has contacts in Hanoi. These big-hearted doctors not only paid their own way but also sponsored Petros Frousiakis an orthopedic surgical resident at CMH knowing it would be a great experience for him as well.

The docs landed at the largest surgical center in Vietnam performing an average of 5 surgeries a day along with seeing clinic patients lined up to evaluate and determine if they were even a candidate for surgery, some returning from the previous year after having already been turned away.

Vietnam with a population of about 92,700,00 has mopeds and motorbikes as the primary form of transportation with very few speed limits and stop signs; this would certainly explain why there are so many traumatic injuries. Our docs walked 1 ½ miles each way to the surgical center and “D” (Damayea) tells me this was the scariest part of the trip because the drivers don’t yield to anyone or anything!

Dr. Damayea Hargett is examining a young patient.

Perhaps due to all the trauma, it is a cultural expectation that if you get hurt you may have some disability, they saw more pathology in one  week than what they see at VCMC in an entire year.

Vietnam has socialized medicine so funding for treatment is limited however, they also do elective cases if you have the cash to pay for it.

The ortho ward was equipped for 50 but had an average of 80 patients, summertime being the worst with literally two  patients in each bed. Along with the trauma were the nonunion surgeries (fractures that did not heal), the congenital deformities that had never been corrected and those that had but never healed correctly. Many of the patients they saw were children, lots of children…

Instrumentation was minimal as well as orthopedic hardware such as a simple clamp or plate, and the closed procedures our docs perform at home with the assistance of radiology were a luxury not afforded. And yet another challenge was that often the surgical technicians assisting them did not speak any English. With these challenges our docs found themselves out of their comfort zone and stayed up many nights doing research to strengthen their skills. Damayea stated, “Unfortunately, we had to turn a lot away, it was heartbreaking.”

The surgeons there so appreciated our docs coming, working together with them and the many discussions that prompted learning on both sides so in addition to plans to return next year and annually, our docs are currently in the process of sponsoring 2 of the surgeons that hosted them to come here and spend a week at VCMC to continue the sharing of knowledge.

If you are interested in sponsoring future trips or a physician that might like to join them, email: [email protected]





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