REI-Vietnam News

Elephants Never Forget

by REI-Vietnam |

Image: Elephants Never Forget
Nor Do Our Vietnamese Friends

A few months ago long-time REI friends and volunteers, Dr. Austin Raunikar (third from left above) and Dr. Mark Duster (far left above), were invited to attend the 10th Annual Symposium of the Cardiovascular Center of Hue Central Hospital, held in June, as guest lecturers. While they were there something unexpected happened.

A little background is in order here. Prior to 1996 the hospital was not able to perform cardiac surgery due to the lack of a cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB). (This machine temporarily takes over the function of the heart and lungs during surgery, maintaining the circulation of blood and the oxygen content of the patient's body. The CPB pump itself is often referred to as a heart–lung machine, or "the pump".) In 1996 REI donated a heart–lung machine to the medical center, provided training in its use as well as training in cardiac procedures, and so enabled the launch of the cardiovascular center.

Since that time several REI volunteers have invested time in the cardiovascular center. Two of these are Dr. Austin, who first visited Hue in 2001, and since then has been there some 9 or 10 times (he has lost count!), and Dr. Mark, who first came to Hue in 2006 and has made a total of 6 trips to the city. These men have also worked in the medical school, and in the cities of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Danang. In Hue they worked increasingly closely with Dr. Phu, the director of the medical center, Dr. Loi, who is the head of cardiology and the organizer of the symposium, Dr. Thuan, a former pediatric cardiologist and now a hematology-oncologist, and with Dr. Khai, considered to be the most senior cardiologist in Vietnam.

During these visits, these men brought training in Interventional Pediatric Cardiology, helping their Vietnamese friends and colleagues learn new procedures to deal with cardiac problems in children. If you yourself have the memory of an elephant, you may recall our April 2016 article (available in our archives) about pediatric cardiology. You may remember that congenital heart defects (usually holes in the heart) affect 8 out of 1000 newborns, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Even 15 years ago, many of these newborns would simply die in Vietnam. Today, with the advances made in pediatric cardiology, most of these infants can be successfully treated and go on to live healthy, normal lives.

Dr. Austin brought training in using and interpreting ultrasounds, using and interpreting EKGs, and working with a cardiac catheterization lab, which basically means using a catheter (a thin, hollow tube) inserted into the heart to diagnose the heart and to perform certain procedures. Dr. Mark also worked with the catheterization lab, enabling Vietnamese doctors to perform certain less invasive procedures, rather than performing open-heart surgery. These men have also sponsored J-1 Fellows, given a variety of lectures, provided material on the Adult Cardiology Board Review Course, and continued to provide help and counsel from afar to their friends in Hue.

Today, according to its website, the Cardiovascular Center has performed an average of 5,000 cadiovascular intervention cases by special techniques a year, performed 1,000 cases of open heart surgery, and provided cardiology treatment for 5,000 patients, both adults and children. We’re talking about many, many people who can go on to live healthy, productive lives thanks to this training.

And Vietnam remembers. After arriving in Hue, Dr. Austin and Dr. Mark were told that they would be receiving an award. Our volunteers are often given a bouquet of flowers in appreciation of their work. This time, however, in the presence of 250-300 symposium participants from a number of countries, our doctors were called up to the auditorium stage. They, along with a handful of other recipients, were then given a special Commendation Award, presented by the People’s Committee of Thua Thien-Hue Province, for significantly advancing children’s cardiovascular health care in the province.

This, dear readers, is a major award. That is, it is a MAJOR award. Other members of the REI team have received it in the past, but it is rare. Both Dr. Austin and Dr. Mark expressed their deep appreciation of the honor and of the gracious hospitality of their hosts, and were also quick to acknowledge that this has been a team effort, with many REI volunteers and staff contributing, directly and indirectly, to the advancement in health care in Hue.

So we would also like to express our deep appreciation for the efforts of Dr. Austin and Dr. Mark, and for the efforts of all who have contributed to this success story, certainly including our Vietnamese friends and colleagues, as well as those who have yet to travel to Vietnam but who support our work. We would also like to thank the People's Committee of Hue for honoring Dr. Austin and Dr. Mark and, by extension, REI in this way.

And if you have volunteered in Vietnam with REI and have yet to receive a similar honor, just wait. Who knows? An elephant never forgets!

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