Operation of Hope volunteers have been working well together headed by surgeons Anthony Tran M.D., F.A.C.S. who was born in Vietnam and now lives in Arlington, Texas and Edward Buchanan M.D., who is an Assistant Professor of Plastic Surgery with the Baylor College of Medicine at the Texas Children’s Hospital. Between these two surgeons and our twelve other volunteers, we have a good crew who collectively understands why we pack our bags, leave our friends, family and comforts like Monday Night Football behind to snap on rubber gloves and help those in dire need.
All potential patients arrived at the hospital as our volunteers collaborated with the Cho Ray hospital staff to set the surgery schedule. The schedule was composed of a backlog of patients who have been waiting indefinitely for any help whatsoever. Given the complexity of some of the cases, we narrowed our caseload to 30 surgeries that will help those devastated by life altering burns. The troublemakers; gasoline, electricity, hot oil, acid and boiling water. These are the basic everyday items created to make our lives easier. In a horrific turn of events, these same staples have forever altered the lives of those who painfully walk the halls of this thick and sweltering hot ward. The wards are filled to maximum capacity in a montage of red angry weeping skin boiling on top of red angry weeping skin. The sights and smells are not for the weak. This is where our work begins.
This past week our team witnessed innocent hands that had been melted into frustrated clenches. We put gowns and masks on and slowly released fingers. We fashioned thumbs to become opposable. We improved necks so they are now capable of nodding yes and no. We cut and sewed and recalculated arms and legs to provide a wider range of motion. New eyelids were fashioned by skin grafts. Mouths were widened as burns have a nasty way of shrinking the skin like melted plastic. We made lemonade out of some very sour lemons.
Nurse Phuc Lee from Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle, Washington has been working in the recovery room to stabilize patients who are disoriented as they roll out of surgery under the heavy warm blanket of anesthesia. Their eyes slowly roll open and close. Their sutures are freshly dressed. They painfully ask for a sip of water. As their vitals purchase a dose of normalcy, I wonder about the stories behind their accidents. How you have smooth skin one day and then wake up with a team of surgeons staring down at you on a table trying to make your life just one shiver of a centimeter better. How life downshifts into survival mode.
I want to close by saying how helpful it is to have our donors contributing to the overall effort of this surgical mission. After plugging away long days in this humid and sticky burn ward, we are so appreciative of the kind people who have shared our vision to embrace and help Vietnamese families in need. The genuine kindness of this community does not go unnoticed. In short, we embrace this true international effort and welcome more opportunities with all of you to continue this good work here in Vietnam.