This year marks the 9th Annual Surgical Outreach Project to Vietnam by members of the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS). Since the first project in 2002, the AOFAS surgeons have transformed the lives of more than 600 Vietnamese children and adults with lower extremity deformities and disabilities through corrective surgery. Due to the cost, these patients would likely never receive the care or surgery provided by the AOFAS members.
Two teams of visiting AOFAS members volunteer over a four week period traveling to villages and towns in northern and central Vietnam and work side by side in clinics and operating rooms with Vietnamese orthopaedic surgeons and residents as part of an educational exchange. The AOFAS members volunteer their time, pay their own travel expenses, and in the end their own lives are changed by the experience.
Naomi Shields, MD is a veteran on these trips having participated annually for the past nine years. "I have seen a lot of changes over the 9 years, especially in the traffic and the high rise buildings. What has not changed has been the friendly welcoming nature of the Vietnamese people, and the overwhelming need especially for the poor and disabled. What we do is a small drop in the bucket of need but for the 600 patients AOFAS surgeons have operated on, that drop has been life changing. I hope we can continue with this project and expand to other countries," said Dr. Shields.
The AOFAS Overseas Outreach Project to Vietnam supported by the Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Outreach & Education Fund (OEF) is a partnership initiative with the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation (POF), which has been providing prosthetic limbs to Vietnamese children and adults since the 1990s but until 2002 lacked an advanced medical services component for patients in need.
As a complement to the mission of the POF, the AOFAS project offers free corrective surgery to patients with lower limb deformities and disabilities caused by polio, cerebral palsy, clubfoot, trauma or amputation. Many patients are from impoverished areas often without access to care and/or are unable to afford advanced medical services. Over the nine years of the project, AOFAS surgeons have seen more than 2,000 patients in clinics and operated on more than 600 patients.
The AOFAS members share new technologies with Vietnamese orthopaedic surgeons and in return are exposed to foot and ankle conditions that many have only read about as classic textbook cases, such as severe untreated clubfoot. In addition to the surgical component, the AOFAS co-sponsored an educational conference on Surgery of the Lower Extremity in Hanoi. The visiting surgeons participated in the educational exchange which was attended by more than 150 Vietnamese orthopaedic surgeons. This cultural and professional exchange further enhances the experience for both AOFAS members and Vietnamese orthopaedic surgeons, while the educational component of the mission creates opportunities for local surgeons to learn directly of new surgical advancements in the treatment of foot and ankle disease and deformities.
Participating in this year's project were: Judith Baumhauer, MD, Rochester, NY; A. Holly Johnson, MD, Boston, MA; Steven Sheskier, MD, NY, NY; Naomi Shields, MD; Wichita, KS and
Saul Trevino, MD, Columbia, MO. During the four week project, the surgeons traveled to hospitals in Thai Nguyen (northwest of Hanoi); Thanh Hoa, (coastal city south of Hanoi); Dien Bien Phu (mountainous region along the Laotian border), and worked at both an orthopaedic and rehabilitation center and Viet Duc University Hospital in Hanoi.
The American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society is a professional society of more than 1,800 orthopaedic surgeons specializing in diagnosis, care and treatment of patients with disorders of the musculoskeletal system of the foot and ankle. The Surgical Outreach Project to Vietnam is supported by the Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Outreach & Education Fund. To find out more about the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society, the Surgical Outreach Project to Vietnam, or the Prosthetic Outreach Foundation log onto www.aofas.org  or www.pofsea.org