Friday, June 22, 2012

Closing Thoughts!!! Thank You All!!!

As we gather to depart Vietnam and our Medical Mission Team of 2012, I can honestly say the experience has been nothing short of spectacular. Traveling to an unknown country, working with unknown colleagues, and waking each day not knowing what treatment a patient may require or what we may be called upon to provide could be very unnerving! All of those concerns were put to rest immediately! As for working with the Mercer University team, I can not say enough how the symbiotic nature of our activities benefitted the entire Mission!  The country of Vietnam has alot to offer: a simple lifestyle, unique cuisine, a culture of socializing and enjoying each others company! Of course there lies many hardships and struggles for the people of Vietnam! As much as I feel we helped the health and wellbeing of those patients we treated, I am in debt to those same patients for teaching me the meaning of living simple, being grateful for what you have, and continuing to smile regardless of surrounding circumstances!
Without the support of Temple University School of Pharmacy, this life altering, personal growth experience could have never been possible.
On behalf of the The entire Vietnam Medical Mission 2012 Team, especially my 4 outstanding Doctor of Pharmacy Students, and the patients of Vietnam, I send our sincere thanks!!
This is the end of only ONE chapter of what I hope is a very long book of future experiences through Medical Missions and Temple University School of Pharmacy!!


Vietnam Medical Mission 2012 has been an overwhelming success. Time to celebrate our teams accomplishments!! Bac Si (Doctor) Ha made the formal announcement of our totals for the 2012 Mission: We Treated over 1500 patients with orthopedic and other illnesses!!!  We Fit 205 prosthetics for patients losing limbs from war injuries, silent land mines, tumors, birth defects etc... Donated over 1500 Kg of rice, noodles, fish sauce and laundry detergent to the poorest patients of South Vietnam!!!
All things considered, Im very proud of both Temple Pharmacy and Mercer University for coming together with the same passion and goal and exceeding our initial expectations!!! I have built many great relationships with my new students from Mercer University, solidified friendships with new colleagues Bac Si Ha, Dr. O'Brien, and Dr. McMahon!!! Most of all I have developed a lifelong relationship, friendship, and respect for my 4 students from Temple University School of Pharmacy who took this opportunity willingly and selflessly!!! I could not be more proud of Thao Nguyen, Montano Recinto, Hang Nguyen and Chi Tran!!! You all know how I feel about you. My many thanks to you for putting up with a faculty member 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 1 month!!!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

One story more devastating than the next

Recall there are 1500 poverty stricken and disabled patients in this small suburb of Vung Tau. Three families invited a select few of us to their homes to see how they live, hear a more personal story and interact with their family members. Let me start with the first family: Above you will see their very modest home. We were introduced to a family of 6 all of who have severe disabilities. Both parents are blind (meeting and falling in love at a center for the blind many years ago). They had a son, who was born with spinal abnormalities who subsequently married a disabled woman. Miraculously, they had a baby girl, born free of disablilities. The family unit was happy to be able to live together and build a life together despite the circumstances. *** Upsetting and moving to me to me to say the least***
The second family, was a man born with severe disabling polio, living with his mother and brother. Interacting with him was touching. Through my students translation, the man told this story: "I am both happy and sad. I am happy because I am 51 years old, born with a devstating disease that claims the life of most by age 30-40." "I am sad because, even though I am living longer than most, I am a severe burden on the rest of my family. he don't deserve to be burdened with my 24/7 and thus I wish to die" ***Just as I thought I couldn't get more upset, tears trickled down my face***
The third, a 29 year old man, born to a mother who was exposed to Agent Orange during the war. As you can see, he is severely crippled and disabled, barely able to communicate, but full of emotion. He is taken care of by his only living relative, his Uncle. Immediately upon our interaction I was torn with emotion but was able to control my external signs. Again through translation of my student, he told this story: "I am very grateful to my Uncle who cares for me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I only have one wish: I wish God would take me to heaven very soon. I know God will provide me the things I did not have on Earth including my legs and the ability to care for others. I wish to die before my Uncle, that way when God provides my ability and legs, I can finally repay my Uncle and take care of him in his time of need"!!!
Needless to say, I could no longer hold back my external, as overt tears began flowing freely down my face. As I tried to conceal my sadness, I approached the man and provided a warm touch to show I heard his story and how my heart goes out to him and his Uncle. I wished both a life of PEACE!!
As I reflected on my journey back to the clinic I recall these thoughts: People show pictures in books and on slides to illustrate a point about devastating disease, but PLEASE NEVER forget that behind every picture for effect is a human being who deals with as much emotion as each and every one of us!!! They have feelings, regrets, wishes, desires to bring peace and happiness to others!!!
I thought of how often we and I complain about things. How the complaints are often superficial, and I began to be ashamed of the little things we complain about!!!  Spending time with people who live daily lives with devastating disabilities opens my eyes to the world, the true suffering, and the HUMAN NATURE of all!!!
Thank you Thao for making sure I was invited to attend these meetings and for exposing me to the BEST and TOUGHEST and most EMOTIONAL part of our journey!!!

More Goodwill for Patients of Vung Tau

More of your generous donations going to a good cause. Our mission team provided care packages of 500 Kg of rice, 100 cases of noodles, 100 bottles of fish sauce, and 100 bags of laundry detergent to approximately 100 needy patients of Vung Tau. These patients are 100 of 1500 poverty stricken and disabled people in this small community. The whole Mission Team thanks you for your monetary donations to make a day like this possible and successful!!!

Just What The Doctor Ordered

Finally a well deserved day off. We traveled from Dong Tap to Vung Tau by bus for 7 hours. We arrived to a very nice beach resort to spend one free evening. Immediately the team ran to the beach, not changing our team traveling clothes and dove head first into the sea. The group deserved this relaxing evening and used it to continue to build team working skills. I am so very proud of how well Team Temple Pharmacy connected with Team Mercer University for the past 3 weeks. We traveled as individual teams but since the first day, we have worked together as ONE team. When two groups have the same passion, dedication, and goals, it is easy to assimilate and join forces to care for, treat, and assist the needy!! Great job!!!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Providing much needed books and SMILES to School Children

Ho Dao Phung Tuong Thanh Le Ta On is one of the few Catholic Churches in a small village suburb of Can Tho. On Church premises is a School for the poor children of the village. It has been in operation for the past 20 years and annually educates approximately 100 children who fall 200% below poverty income level. The tuition for classes, taught 9 months a year, is 15,000 dong per month (0.75 cents USD). Upon arrival we were greeted by a very nice young priest who graciously and humbly accepted our donation of books for all the children of the school. Since it was evening time, after clinic, we did not expect students to be on site. Much to our delight, about 25 children were gathered and playing in the common grounds. Of course, our team jumped right into the games. These children were extremely respectful, funny and talented. Many of them sang songs for us and the boy Im hugging had the most celestial voice of them all!!! To my surprise they requested that I sing a song for them. Having no idea what to sing, but surrounded by the most brilliant breathtaking stars in the sky, my students prompted me to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star!! As I finished to a round of applause, it again reminded me of how respectful these children were, because trust me, I did not deserve it!!! I happily provided some piggyback rides during our tour of the Church, School, and dining area. The dining area is made from over 100 year old wood from the original Church site that was bombed and damaged during the Vietnam War. Another day of donations and another day of chills and tears for me!!! Thank you children for making me laugh and cry at the same time!!!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Watch out for the photographer who got plenty of rest

12-14 hour days, midpoint through the Mission has taken its toll on everyone!!! We started with 30 members on our team, full of energy. curiosity, and enthusiasm!! Update: 7 are sick with head colds, sore throats, fever etc.... 7 are experiencing the "Vietnamese Stomach". Although a few of them had to stay at the hotel / "Infirmary", the remaining members chipped in to complete our work!! The traveling from clinic to clinic becomes the "Ideal" place to catch up on much needed rest. Of course once you succumb to your heavy eyelids, its fair game for the photogs of our group!! After many Vitamin B-12 injections to our own team, Im happy to say we are almost back at full capacity. Im not sure, but I think I overheard a rumor that we may get "a day off" sometime in the near future. However, thats was the false rumor circulating last week. To be honest, the rest would do everyone good, but the focus and objective of the mission continues!!