Healing the Children in Vietnam

Over the last twelve years, I have taken several trips with Healing the Children New Jersey, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing donated medical care to children in need- in the US and throughout the world. Most recently, I returned from a seven-day mission to Vietnam where our team of volunteers completed over 78 surgeries.

Forty medical and non-medical people traveled on this amazing trip, each of us paying our own way, taking vacation time, and bringing the necessary equipment and supplies, while donating our expertise to many of the underprivileged. We performed surgeries on those who wouldn’t have had the opportunity to acquire these procedures without our mission.

Each day, there were lines of Vietnamese children, each with a skin deformities- cleft palette, cleft lip, as well as burn victims, each waiting for a turn to seek help from a medical professional. Such surgeries normally cost thousands of dollars, and they are usually beyond the reach of most poor families.

It is very difficult for children with defects in Vietnam. Many Vietnamese people believe that the parents or grandparents are to blame for the deformities. It is viewed as a punishment for something they did wrong in their lives. Many local villagers believe Agent Orange, used in the Vietnam War, is also a cause of such an abnormality and the afflicted child is referred to as an Agent Orange baby. Agent Orange was designed to defoliate the jungle and thus deny cover to Vietcong guerrillas. It contained one of the most virulent poisons known to man, a strain of dioxin called TCCD. In time, the dioxin then spread its toxic reach to the food chain, which some say, led to a proliferation of birth deformities.

Our team not only performed the necessary surgeries, but with the help of translators, we were able to train the existing staff how to perform several of these procedures. Specifically, I trained some of the Vietnamese surgeon’s new techniques for skin grafting burn victims. We operated on one teenager that had 70 percent of his body burned.

Although many surgeries were performed each day, unfortunately, we had to turn away several people that required multiple surgeries that could not be performed without the use of more advanced equipment.

Not only did we have a rewarding week providing treatment for these needy children, I believe we have made great strides in establishing a system in Vietnam for these patients that will serve as a model of care. Traveling to a place like Hue is definitely a reminder of the superior health care, to which we have access, in the United States.

Visit htcnj.org for more information about Healing the Children New Jersey.

Dr Sanjay Lalla operating in Hue Central Hospital, Vietnam.

Dr Sanjay Lalla with 2-year-old boy. Little boy had a cleft lip and palate and was unable to take in proper nutrition do to deformity. Dr Lalla fixed the deformity with a two hour surgery enabling the boy to eat and drink properly and to fix the lip deformity.

5-year-old girl born with an extra thumb on each hand. X-ray of thumbs. Dr Lalla removed extra thumbs on each hand. This little girl was scared to go to school because the other children made fun of her and didn’t want to play with her. The surgery was a success and she was very happy.