Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thank You All!!!

Another chapter in our book of International Medical Missions has come to a close. I feel like the luckiest person in the world for getting not ONE opportunity, but a SECOND and hopefully many more opportunities to leave a lasting impression on a civilization half way around the world. I reflect on a statement Dean Doukas said to us upon our return, "Your efforts are helping to stitch the world together. There are so many people tearing the world apart, but we are making a true difference"!

Each time I get to venture to another segment of the world, experience a different culture and donate my time and energy to the global health of patients, my life trajectory changes. I am very happy and satisfied with the direction my life has taken, but it would be a sad notion to think that my direction and trajectory were stationary! Each and every life experience alters ones trajectory, all for a reason. I believe that all the outcomes and changes that an experience causes, are all meant to be, and meant for a higher reason, one that might not be clearly evident at the moment.

Certain experiences, The Vietnam Medical Mission for one, is at the forefront of my life's direction. My passion for health, my awe and wonder of new, strange places, my welcoming and open personality, my ability to share knowledge and instill a sense of internal satisfaction to others I touch, are all at the foundation of my long term plan!

I have had the opportunity to travel to places and see things that others have only read about in books. I owe many of those experiences to Temple University School of Pharmacy, for believing in our vision, supporting our mission, and allowing us to fulfill our dreams.

To my family and my loved ones who perservere with my endless chatter and long time absence, I could not have done any of this without you!!

To the newest members of my immediate family: Jordanis Joy, Hang Nguyen, Thao Nguyen, Viet Nguyen, Quynh-Anh Pham and Chi Tran: "You all know how I feel about you as professionals and as people. You each bring different and unique personalities and attributes to my life, all of which have become imbedded in my soul. From this day forward, you have a new BIG BROTHER (I refuse to acknowledge I could be old enough to be your Father.) I will treat you like family, and treasure every moment we spent and will spend together. We are bonded for life from this mission experience!!!

Lastly, I would like to provide a small idea of our future plans. 

We have founded VMCO, The Vietnamese Medical Charity Organization, a non-profit entity. Our goals are to grow VMCO, with the support of Temple and Mercer, to become one of the global leaders in medical charity. Our vision is vast, our mission is strong, and our goals are achievable.

We thank you for all your support, because without you, the stitching of the worlds would not be as tight!!!

Thank you for following the 2013 Vietnam Medical Mission blog. I hope through our eyes, your feel connected to our passions!!!

See you in 2014!!!!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Reflective Quotes from Students


I can't believe a month had already flown by.  It seemed like just yesterday when we were at the Taipei airport excited to set foot in Vietnam.  Now that we are leaving, we leave with invaluable experiences and memorable imprints that will always remain in our heart.  Every time I think of Vietnam, I now see smiling faces of the amputees, orthopedic patients, the poor families we visited, the children of the street, and many others whom we have met and befriended along the way.  I am fortunate to be a part of this journey.  This experience has immensely impacted the lives of many and it has definitely brought inspiration to continue keeping our arms opened to help those in need.


The mission is finally done! I say finally because it seems like we did so much, yet in actuality, it was a very short period of time. The people I was able to work with, especially Dr. Ruchalski, Thao, Chi, Phoebe, Viet, and Jordanis, definitely contributed to how rewarding this trip was. I am so grateful to be able to take part in this medical mission to Vietnam to be humbled and moved by the hardships the people of Vietnam face on a daily basis. What we are able to offer these people were only temporary reliefs. This experience makes me feel that there is still so much more we can do to help, and hopefully, we will have the opportunity to do so.


Looking back at our time spent in Vietnam, I think it is important to communicate what separates this rotation from any other opportunities available to us.  The educational aspect, which is our primary objective, matches if not exceeds what is learned on other clinical ambulatory rotations.  Secondly cultural awareness  gained from spending 4 weeks in a foreign country is unmatched.  It has allowed me to learn more about my own culture and it has given the confidence to speak my native language better and more confidently then ever before.  Finally what I will cherish the most about this rotation are the relationships I have built with my peers and professors.  Spending everyday with these fellow missionaries has allowed me to learn so much about what makes each one of them special, because of that I have developed friendships that will last a lifetime.


It's so sad that our mission is coming to an end. However, the experience, the memories and lessons I have had on this trip will never end; they have left a huge impact on my life. I am very glad to have the opportunity to come back the second year. Dr.R is like a dad, Thao is like a mom, Chi is like a sister to me. This year I have two new brothers, Viet and Jordanis, and a new sister QA. We get a long well, work great together as well as with Mercer students and we take care of each other like a big family. We might choose different paths for our lives, going separate ways but VMCo is always the big family close to our hearts. I feel so lucky to be able to go back and help the people in need in my country. Although I may not come back next year, I will help the new students to prepare for the coming mission, hoping they will get the amazing experience with the patients, the teamwork and the country like I did.


Throughout this trip we saw various forms of art; the pearly white smiles, monumental skyscrapers, natural formations of stalagmites and stalactites, and the intricate designs of prosthetic legs. Each example is personified differently depending on the perspective of the viewer. An elastic band stretching anteriorly from the thigh socket to the leg socket of prosthetics may simply be established as a device to help the patient bend their knees better. But to the engineer who meticulously measured and positioned that elastic band; it personifies the quadriceps of the human body. Art is in the eye of the beholder and as the painting states, it gives life a shape; it allows a person to walk upright and revive their daily functioning. This trip has showed me that art is not something that's displayed in buildings; it is in everyone we meet and touch, the new bonds of friendship, the laughter we share, the smiles we see on patients, and most importantly how these relationships change you as a person. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A little music is great for the heart and soul

Emotions run strong for 30 days, muscles get weary, stomaches get adjusted, friendships build and strengthen, and at the end of the day, sometimes you just have to let go!

Culturally, I've learned over my 2 years here in Vietnam, that the people here experience life to the fullest, regardless of their means or struggles. You can walk around the streets at all hours of the day and find the locals eating street food, playing cards, drinking beer, having conversations, laughing and of course singing!!!!

Up until this point we have experienced all of the above, and tonight is the time to lighten our hearts and entertain ourselves!!

The beauty is, that within such a great group of friends and family, no one judges your singing talent. (Thank God)!!!

Visiting the needy in their homes

During this mission, many of us are very busy treating the hundreds of patients that show up each day. However, we always try to make time for visiting the homes of some of the poorest and neediest people in the villages we are in. During these visits, a few members of our team travel through jungle like conditions on motor bikes, carrying the modest amount of supplies we are going to donate. Below, please read the impressions by two of our mission team members as they see what kind of poverty these patients experience:

Chi Tran: There were so many poor families that can’t afford to have food on their table every day. I visited three extremely impoverish families to donate food baskets today.  Reflecting on the conditions of these three families made me feel very sad I was reminded of my background and how I grew up, only that was 20 years ago.  

The first family we visited live in a small hut made up of woven coconut leaves.  The mother is a 92 years old woman who can barely walk.  We walked in to see her lying in bed and in an adjacent bed, laid her 46 years old son who is paralyzed from previous work accident.  These beds, made of wooden frame with a straw mat were all they have to sleep on.  Hanging around the bed were approximately five sets of clothing that they own that now look like a piece of rag from the wear and tear.  On the table was a hot water pitcher and a few cups, all very old with broken mouthpieces and covered in dirt. The family basically live through support from neighbors and donation since the son doesn't have the ability for physical labor.

The second family was in worse condition with a daughter having to take care of her immobile mother and her brother whose wife left after he was paralyzed from a stroke.  The daughter sacrificed her life to stay and take care of her family. She bursted into tears as she shared her hardships with us. 

We arrived at the third house where an elderly woman laid in a hammock infront of her living quarter. We came over for a chat and she told us stories of her life of poverty.  She said that their typical meal would be just plain rice mix with salt.  On certain days they would not even have that to eat.  Her family also lived off of what is donated and so she said that on days they would have so much to eat when people visit, but on most days, they would have nothing on the table.  Hanging on the wall was a whiteboard debts borrowed from neighbors for food.  We surprised her a few days later in which we returned and paid off for her debt which was equivalent to $50 USD.

Having the opportunity to visit these three families left me with a feeling of sorrow and emptiness.  I wish there is more that I can do to help so that they can at least have regular meals.  I reflected back on my life and thought what my life would be like if I didn't have the opportunity to come to the US.  I feel very fortunate and I firmly believe that it is my calling to one day fill this emptiness with joy that I will be able to give back all that I have to those in need.

Viet Nguyen: It was our third day at the Tra On clinic and I was taking a patient’s blood pressure, a physical assessment skill I can confidently say I have mastered over the past 2½ weeks of our medical mission in Vietnam.  My fellow missionary QA taps me on the shoulder and tells me it’s my turn to deliver supplies.  With little hesitation I agree to the task despite no explanation or idea whatsoever as to the nature of this excursion.  I naively strap on a helmet and jump onto the back of the moped of one of our guides to follow a small convoy of our fellow missionary friends from Mercer University.  Little did I know that this seemingly mundane task would turn out to be the defining moment of what thus far has already been an eventful trip.

            Cruising down the country road we suddenly turn off onto a muddy path through jungle terrain and crossover a of cement bridge hardly wide enough to fit our mopeds.  I quickly realize that this is more then just a simple delivery.  To this point of our 3 weeks in Vietnam I had only been exposed to cities, tourist attractions, and medical clinics.  And with just a short ride we had entered a small farming village, one of the many that make up the majority of the beautiful country.  I was being exposed to what life is really like for a majority of this country’s inhabitants.  Our first stop was the house of a single mother who had suffered a stroke just a few years back and was doing her best with the help of her kind neighbors to raise her adolescent son.  Our next delivery was to the house of an ailing grandmother, who was raising her granddaughter after her son had past away the mother had abandoned them.  We went to the house of a single mother raising a young son with little means to provide basic amenities.  Our last stop was the house of a family caring for their ailing father, who received aid for their neighbors to pay for medical bills.  On a previous excursion other missionaries delivered food to their home, and while there it was noticed that the family kept track of their debts from their generous neighbors on a small blackboard by the entrance.  Upon realizing the full extent of their struggles, our group had decided to return with donations to pay off those debts and I was fortunate enough to come along for the ride. 
These were all touching stories, the extent of which is difficult to describe.  These villagers have very little means and they make a living through whatever manual labor is available, often grueling in nature.  Houses are made of bamboo, leaves, dirt floors and no often no larger then a studio apartment.  It’s difficult to comprehend the full extent of this level of poverty for most Americans it’s being described, because it’s an indescribable situation that can only be fully appreciated firsthand. 
It was absolutely touching to see such a small gesture mean so much to those who have so little.   These people, with such relatively simple lives, are so much happier and kinder then many others who have everything.  Their level of gratitude for the simplest act of kindness is an emotion I’ve become unfamiliar with; unfortunately, it’s a virtue I believe has been lost in our current society.  This small charitable excursion, just a simple 1hour task I was assigned in my day, put my life into perspective in a way I could never imagine.  Even for a stoic person such as myself found it hard to fight back the tears in these touching situations.  I have always considered myself to be very self-aware, and this entire experience has given me a point of reference and understanding as to how fortunate I am to be where I am in my life.  I couldn’t be happier to have such a great family and wonderful friends in my life.  Leaving the clinic I could not help but notice how fresh the air was, how beautiful the vast acres of rice fields looked in the dawn sky.  Moving forward I will try to always keep in mind just how lucky we all are no matter what hardships are thrown our way.

To my students: Never forget where you come from, Never forget who took care of you, and Never forget to give back 1000 times more in return!!!

War Remnants Museum

When a friend of Viet recommended we visit the War Remnants Museum in Saigon, he described it as very Anti-American and brutally graphic. Having heard this, I was very unsure about how I would feel during my visit.

As you would think, The overwhelming theme of the Museum is global condemnation of America for its part in the War, and the war crimes and consequences suffered.
Mentally expecting, understanding and setting aside the propaganda, regardless of the view point of the designers, one would have to agree that the tragedies suffered during the war, including American, Vietnamese and countless other nations, is horrific. The lasting effects of the War are still seen and felt today.

 In fact, the main purpose of our Vietnam Medical Mission is to treat those people who have been seriously wounded during and after the war. Since the end of the war, over 100,000 men, woman and children are still being injured or killed due to silent land mines left during the war era. Of the over 260 amputees that we fit prosthetics for, over 80% of them are due to land mine accidents. In addition, our medical clinic and charity work reaches those patients that are affected by the lasting negative effects of Agent Orange. During the War, Dioxin, decidedly the most terrible chemical ever to be discovered, was used to level rural areas and flush out enemy troops. It is estimated that over 44 million liters of Agent Orange was used from 1961 to 1971, and that an estimated 2 to 4 million Vietnamese people have been directly exposed and have had the long lasting negative effects.

War, whatever side you look at, is a terrible, deadly, and ultimately destructive act.

One must approach this topic with an open mind, but if one can accomplish this, the human compassion will surface. Hopefully Peace prevails.

It was one of the most difficult, yet moving decisions to visit this Museum and reflect on human nature and man-kinds lasting effects on the world!

Chuc Mung!!! Gap Lai Sau Nhe


We part from our Mercer Team members during a well-deserved dinner celebration. After a very successful mission 2013, Bac Si Ha recognized each and every team member with a traditional Vietnamese hand-carved name plate. He complimented the entire team on such dedication, hard-work and devotion to the patients of Vietnam. During his speech, Bac Si Ha echoed a sentiment I spoke about last year: "We came together as a Mercer and Temple, but we worked TOGETHER AS ONE TEAM!!!

Asfor my comments at the dinner:

"On behalf of our entire Temple Pharmacy team, I must say Cam on to Bac Si Ha, O'Brien, Sumner, McMahon, Be and Anh Du for welcoming us for the second straight year as members of the Vietnam Medical Mission. I must give a special thank you to Em Van, for all her hard work and coordination on the Mercer side, making it possible for Temple to continue to join. Thank you to Bac Si Thao, who is my right hand and nothing I do here could even begin without her support and dedication. 
It never ceases to amaze me how 2 teams of virtual strangers can come together with the same goals, and passions, and make this mission such a great success!!!"
"As for my annual celebratory toast, please raise your glasses and join me saying:" 

"Bac Si Ha, YO YO YO!!!!"

Gap Lai Sau Nhe (See you again soon)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Revisting old "Friends"

As you may recall from the 2012 Rx in Vietnam blog, my first meal off the plane was Chim Se (sparrow bird), and my first friend was Hung. It was a nice memory that I had all year long and one I hoped to revisit some time in the future. Well, as you can see, my hope was granted. I was thrilled to see Hung, my new BROTHER from Vietnam, and excited to introduce one of my favorite meals to my newest students. The experience certainly did not disappoint!!! It was a well-deserved evening out and very nice to meet many new friends.

This memory, again, will stay with me, and my hope is that if God-spares, I get a chance to continue to revisit my new family abroad!!!

Thank you Hung!!!!