Bridge of Life Up Close

My Journey with the Bridge of Life Vietnam Medical Mission

Though short notice, when I read about an opportunity sponsored by DaVita Village Trust, in conjunction with the Project Vietnam Foundation (PVNF), I was very excited. Being of Vietnamese decent, I knew first hand of the medical need in this country. Though I’ve lived most of my life here in the United States and identify myself as American, deep down, I’m still Vietnamese. So when presented with the opportunity to give back in Vietnam, I took it. I was honored and fortunate to be chosen amongst hundreds of applicants. I thought, here is my opportunity to represent not only myself, but my teammate working extra hard to help out in my absence at Talbert Surgical Associates and DaVita.

I began this journey with only one expectation: that I would need to work hard. And, believe me, our team gave 110% everyday through some very tough conditions: hot weather, high humidity and polluted air; sketchy water; bugs; and rats. I didn’t know I had signed up for Survivor! But despite all the challenges and difficulties, this was absolutely the most fulfilling experience of my life. There was a sea of endless smiling faces waiting patiently in the sweltering sun for hours. This was their opportunity to see the “American Medical Team” that had traveled all this way to help them. We did what we could with the limited resources that each team member had packed along with their personal luggage for this mission. Our services may have been minor by our standards, but to the people that we served, it meant the world.

On our last day, our team was approached by one of the leaders from PVNF. They asked if anyone knew their blood type. So I stepped forward and told them that I was a universal donor, O-. They pulled me aside and asked if I would consider donating blood for a very sick child. Anemia and malnutrition are facts of life for most children in this part of the world. But this child was barely hanging on. It wasn’t a question of yes or no to me at this point, but, rather, when can we get this done. For me, it was the sooner, the better. A formal request to help this child was made to the medical director of the facility where we were working. After what seemed like a lifetime of waiting, I was finally able to donate blood a couple of hours later.

Before we left, I was compelled to seek out this child and her parents to wish them well. Through tearful eyes, the child’s parents greeted me and Brooke, a DaVita Physician Assistant who examined the child from our delegation. Obviously, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room! During our short conversation, the mother told us that her child needed urgent surgery. But they are still short on money, even after selling their home for funds. So it was PVNF to the rescue! They donated more than enough funding to cover the surgery and then some.

This experience, along with the entire mission, has left me with a profound sense of gratitude. My daily challenges now pale in comparison to what I know many people in the world go through daily just to survive another day. So I’m grateful to DaVita Village Trust and PVNF for the opportunity to give back and to “give life.” Sign me up for the next mission! When and where are we going???

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First Medical Mission to Vietnam Brings Health, Hope and Smiles

Despite a long journey and hot, challenging days, the 17 DaVita teammates who traveled to Sai Gon, Vietnam in March 2015 made a tremendous impact during Bridge of Life’s first Medical Mission to the country.

Teaming with Project Vietnam Foundation, we provided surgical, kidney care and primary care services to nearly 3,000 people over the course of 14 days. It was an amazing effort!

As part of the mission, our medical volunteers provided restoration surgery to 70 children with a cleft lip/palate. Some of the patients traveled great distances with their families in order to receive care. And while our team provided critical surgical expertise to help improve these children’s lives, they left with some meaningful benefits of their own. As one surgeon shared, “I came to Vietnam to give these kids a chance to smile, but I am the one leaving with a lifetime of happiness in my heart.”

Kidney care was another focus of our mission, and volunteers also spent time at hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City and Can Tho assessing two of the largest dialysis clinics in Vietnam. Together, these two clinics provide 5,500 dialysis treatments monthly to people with chronic kidney disease. And, despite valiant efforts, one hospital director estimates that half of the people in need of dialysis in the country are left without access to treatment. As a result, Bridge of Life is exploring ways to better educate and treat the underserved who are at risk of kidney disease in Vietnam. Clearly, there is opportunity for future mission trips to the country.

For the first time, we also had a team of volunteers focused on offering primary care to individuals in need. We provided health consultations and audiology, dental, vision and women’s health services to 2,488 people living in the rural highlands of Nghe An province. It was gratifying to reach so many men, women and children with a need for medical care in just four days.

Overall, our first venture into providing care in Vietnam was a wonderful learning opportunity and a meaningful experience for volunteers and community members alike.

Look for future blog posts that share remarkable firsthand accounts of volunteer experiences from Bridge of Life’s March 2015 Medical Mission to Vietnam.

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