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AOFAS Surgeons Embrace Medical Challenges In Vietnam

ROSEMONT, Ill., July 12, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- When seven orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeons arrived in Vietnam last month for a two-week humanitarian trip organized by the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS), they were stuck by the bravery of their young patients and the dedication of the local Vietnamese surgeons.

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"Just like at home, we were surrounded by a team of dedicated professionals trying their best to assist normal people with abnormal anatomy," says AOFAS volunteer Thomas A. McDonald, MD, Springfield, Mass. "Some of the orthopaedic challenges were different from what I routinely see in my practice, but the patients were good people bravely trying to face diminished function caused by a painful extremity or deformity. They were desperate in their need but consistently stoic and determined."

During this year's Overseas Outreach Project to Vietnam, AOFAS volunteers worked in small teams and fanned out to serve at facilities in Dien Bien Phu, a northwestern city that lies in the Muong Thanh Valley near the Laotian border; Thai Nguyen, a city roughly 50 miles north of Hanoi; and Vinh, a city some 185 miles south of Hanoi on the South China Sea. In addition, they all worked with Vietnamese orthopaedic surgeons at Viet Duc Hospital in Hanoi. The dedication of local surgeons was evident in every city.

"In three days in Thai Nguyen, we saw about 40 patients and did 13 surgeries," says J. Turner Vosseller, MD, New York. "In Hanoi, we were able to do four cases with the residents, and their eagerness to learn was inspiring. During those four surgeries, there were no less than 12 residents in the operating room, all watching intently and asking questions."

Other participants in this year's program included Mario Kuhn Adames, MD, Florianapolis, Brazil; Paul S. Docktor, MD, Denver; Aaron J. Guyer, MD, Tallahassee, Fla.; Naomi N. Shields, MD, Wichita, Kan.; and Mark P. Slovenkai, MD, Boston. Shields in particular has a long history of serving the Vietnamese people, having volunteered for the outreach project since its inception in 2002.

In addition to operating and teaching, AOFAS volunteers conducted seminars to share surgical advancements in the treatment of foot and ankle disease and deformity. AOFAS members volunteer their time and pay their own travel expenses to Vietnam. In-country expenses are supported by the Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Outreach & Education Fund (OEF), partially through partner Prosthetics Outreach Foundation (POF) and with charitable donations from individuals and industry. POF also makes all of the in-country logistical arrangements and coordinates with the Vietnamese government and hospitals for the trip.

AOFAS Outreach: Why Vietnam?

The AOFAS Overseas Outreach Project to Vietnam was born out of a fact-finding trip in 2001. AOFAS members had traveled to Vietnam to explore the possibility of treating disabled children and landmine victims. Patients with untreated congenital deformities are common in Vietnamese clinics, and the AOFAS project provides corrective surgery without charge for both children and adults with lower extremity deformities caused by polio, cerebral palsy, clubfoot, trauma and other conditions.

With the need apparent, AOFAS volunteers began making annual visits to Vietnam to assist in orthopaedic rehab centers. Since that fact-finding trip, more than 1,000 patients have benefited from surgery performed without charge by AOFAS volunteers, and more than 2,400 patients have been seen in the clinics. Meanwhile, partner POF has built local capacity to provide prosthetic limbs to indigent Vietnamese children and adults since the 1990s.

As the years have passed, AOFAS volunteers have found themselves treating and following up with some of the patients they've seen on past trips.

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