Congenital heart defects 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. Long-time REI volunteer Dr. Austin Raunikar is seeking to help raise the standard of children’s heart care in Vietnam.
When Dr. Austin first came to Vietnam with REI in 2001, cardiac care for newborns ranged from pretty good to a much lower standard, depending on the hospital. Austin’s desire was to invest his skills and experience, along with his time and finances, in helping train others to help the children of Vietnam.
This April, Austin returned to Vietnam for his 11th tour of service. As he put it, “Vietnam has made nearly as much progress in the last 15 years as the USA made in the last 50.” But there is still work to be done. Austin seeks to pass on to his Vietnamese friends and counterparts advances in diagnostic and surgical procedures for VSD (Ventricular Septal Defect), Pulmonary Stenosis, and Tetralogy of Fallot, among other defects. The above terms are quite specialized, but they all boil down to one thing: little people with big problems.
The first of Austin’s 2 weeks in Vietnam this April was largely spent at the National Hospital of Pediatrics (NHP) in Hanoi. Old friends greeted him warmly, and quickly ushered him into the Pediatric Cardiology department to discuss new and complex cases with him. One of the cases discussed was so rare that Austin had only seen it twice before in his 30 year career. Other cases are seen far more frequently. Regardless, Austin spent many hours examining children with the NHP medical specialists and discussing the best plan of treatment, whether through medication, surgery, or both. The aimed-for outcome is successfully treated, healthy children. More precisely, the aimed-for outcome is to help empower Vietnamese health professionals, that they might see successfully treated, healthy children. Not just doing, but enabling others to do. Having the right tools helps, of course. Austin brought a specialized stethoscope for NHPs use, just as he has brought in other equipment in the past.
This training, this enabling, often takes place in the clinic. It also takes place in the classroom. Interpreting an ECG is essential to understanding a child’s heart condition, so Austin gave a presentation on that subject in several hospitals and medical universities. Other subjects covered included interpreting murmurs and understanding the electrophysiology and anatomy of the cardiac system.
Touching base with old friends, both professionally and personally, is a crucial element of REI’s work. Austin took a day to visit his friend and colleague Dr. Khoi, below, formerly of Hue but now in Ho Chi Minh City, at the Ho Chi Minh Medical University. Austin gave two lectures to the staff there, but also particularly wanted to see how the pediatric cardiology work is developing, and what he and REI can do in the future to help Dr. Khoi and others help the children of Vietnam.
The majority of the second week was spent in the city of Hue, in central Vietnam, at Hue General Hospital. Here too there was a balance between deepening understanding through lectures, and developing on-site skills in diagnosis and planning treatment in the clinics. A 61-hour audio pediatric board course was presented to the hospital to provide the knowledge considered foundational for a pediatrician in the US.
Thanks to the efforts of many, children who may not have survived a few years ago now have the hope of living happy and active lives. You may remember the story of how several years ago REI-VN helped bring little Duc to the US for a life-saving surgery which was not then available in Vietnam. REI teams have since watched a healthy, active Duc grow up to young adulthood. We have also trained Vietnamese cardiac surgeons in this particular procedure. Today Vietnam is treating many children like Duc on a daily basis! Just one of the hospitals we work with now performs over 500 similar heart surgeries every year.
We love hearing stories like this. Children living, playing, laughing, because of the dedication of health care workers, whether from Vietnam or elsewhere. We are grateful for the privilege of partnering with people like Dr. Austin, Dr. Khoi and many, many others, for the sake of these kids.
And we are grateful for you, too, who take an interest in our service to and partnership with the Vietnamese people.
Xin cảm ơn! (Thank you very much!)