Humanitarian Work Draws AOFAS Surgeons Back to Vietnam

Orthopaedic foot and ankle specialists return to treat patients in need​ 

​ROSEMONT, Ill. (July 1, 2016) – Volunteers from the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS) returned to Vietnam this year to provide corrective surgery for children and adults with lower extremity deformities and disabilities. For three weeks, AOFAS volunteers traveled to hospitals and rehab centers in Ba Vi, Hanoi and Lao Cai, treating patients and working with local orthopaedic surgeons.

Naomi Shields, MD (left) and Robert Mihalich, MD, at Lao Cai Hospital in
Lao Cai, Vietnam.​
This year’s volunteer group evaluated 218 patients in clinics and performed surgery on 66, all at no cost to the patients. Since the first AOFAS Overseas Outreach Project to Vietnam in 2002, more than 1,300 patients have benefited from surgery performed without charge by AOFAS volunteers, and more than 3,000 patients have been seen in the clinics. Most patients are from impoverished areas and lack access to care. Others are unable to afford advanced medical services.

“While I knew I would see some unusual cases, I was still surprised by the level of deformity and the children’s will to overcome their disabilities,” said Robert Mihalich, MD, of Brighton, Mich. “Most of the patients we saw were just looking for help and grateful for whatever we could do. I returned home with a renewed sense of purpose and improved perspective on what it means to take care of patients.”

Scope of Volunteer Work
Patients with untreated congenital deformities are common in the clinics, and they have a range of challenging conditions. AOFAS volunteers used basic orthopaedic principles to accomplish specific surgical goals because many of the implants and imaging tests used in the United States for diagnosing and treating orthopaedic foot and ankle problems are not available in Vietnam.

“Most of the surgeries we performed involved complications of clubfoot and cerebral palsy,” said A. Holly Johnson, MD, who practices in Boston. “The patients were amazingly resilient and brave, and we felt lucky to have the opportunity to offer them our care. We also enjoyed teaching the local surgeons diagnosis and treatment algorithms for different foot and ankle problems.”

The AOFAS surgeons volunteered their time and paid for their own travel to Vietnam. In-country expenses were supported by the AOFAS Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Foundation with charitable donations from individuals and industry. This was the 15th annual project sponsored by the AOFAS and its partner organization, Mobility Outreach International (MOI).

During the multi-week project, which ended in mid-June, the volunteers worked at orthopaedic rehab centers and taught residents. In addition to Johnson and Mihalich, volunteer surgeons included Naomi Shields, MD, of Wichita, Kansas, and Raymond J. Sullivan, MD, of Hartford, Conn. 

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  A. Holly Johnson, MD (left) and Raymond J. Sullivan, MD (right) performing surgery with local surgeons at the Orthopaedic Rehabilitation Center in Ba Vi, Vietnam.

Education is an important part of the outreach project, and the AOFAS volunteers presented at the annual conference on Surgery of the Lower Extremity held on June 11 in Hanoi. Co-sponsored by the AOFAS, MOI, the Vietnam Ministry of Health and Viet Duc University Hospital, the conference utilized simultaneous translation and was attended by 120 Vietnamese orthopaedic surgeons. The program included presentations by four Vietnamese surgeons. The AOFAS volunteers also presented at smaller seminars in the hospitals where they worked.

About the AOFAS
The AOFAS promotes quality, ethical and cost-effective patient care through education, research and training of orthopaedic surgeons and other health care providers. The Society creates public awareness for the prevention and treatment of foot and ankle disorders, provides leadership, and serves as a resource for government and industry as well as the national and international health care communities.​ 

About MOI
Mobility Outreach International is a Seattle-based leader in orthopaedic rehabilitation in developing countries. MOI seeks to ensure that children and adults with limb loss or limb deformities have access to high-quality orthopaedic and physical rehabilitation services so they can enjoy lifelong mobility. MOI staffers support developing countries in their effort to provide prosthetic care, orthopaedic surgeries and treatment for children with clubfoot through hands-on teaching and training. 

About Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Surgeons
Orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeons are medical doctors (MD and DO) who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders and injuries of the foot and ankle. These specialists use medical, physical and rehabilitative methods as well as surgery to treat patients of all ages. Relying on four years of medical school training, five years of post-graduate training and often a fellowship in foot and ankle care, orthopaedic foot and ankle surgeons perform reconstructive procedures, treat sports injuries and manage foot and ankle trauma.

Jennifer Hicks
Director of Membership, Marketing and Communications
Office: 847-430-5079​​​