Friday, October 10, 2008

The Orphanage in Phu Loc

One of our screening locations was an orphanage in Phu Loc managed by a group of Catholic Nuns. They were wonderful hosts. There are several dozen kids there, including some who are deaf and others with mental retardation or similar problems. It was a very special experience to be there and spend time with the kids before and after the screening. The Sisters served us a delightful lunch -- as good as in any restaurant!

This orphanage gets very little help from the outside, and they will appreciate any donations, which I plan to work on upon our return to the USA. (I have a list!)

Although the photo above doesn't relate directly to our eye mission, I am sharing it with you anyway!

The Report from Quang Tri

Dr. Jim Katz and his wife, Pam, and IAO executive director Rich Paul have been carrying out a series of meetings and eye screenings in Quang Tri Province the last two days. This is the area just south of the "DMZ" -- the old border between North and South Vietnam. It is a very poor area even though the coastline is lovely and the mountains are impressive. Sadly, among the patients we have screened are people who have blinding eye traumas from the war. But what was really surprising is how many -- even kids -- who have been injured by 40-year old ordinance that explodes now, injuring or even killing innocent people who were not even alive during the conflict.

So far, we have screened about 60 people at three different locations: an orphanage in Phu Loc, a "blind association" in the town of Quang Tri, and another "blind association" in Dong Ha. Tam, the local rep for the Global Community Services Foundation (our host here) has done a good job rounding up a cross-section of people -- from kids to elderly.

Of course, we have seen many cataracts, but also other rather interesting cases. One (actually two) was just today -- Friday -- with a young man who's missing part of his eyelids. Not five minutes later, another with the same exact condition came through. Turns out they are brothers and, undoubtedly, the condition is hereditary.

During our time here, we have had a few meetings, as well. On our arrival in Dong Ha, we met with the director of the local eye clinic and one of their ophthalmologists. They gave a very good PowerPoint report for us which outlined the nature of eye problems in the province. Excellent information that was very useful. We also saw their exam room and the small O.R. For cataractr patients, they are performing the extracap procedure, and the patients are kept there for five days. We told them about the phaco course in Hanoi, which is if great interest.

Today (Friday), we met with the head of the local medical school. In addition to training about 10 doctors, they also have quite a few nursing students, pharmacists and midwives. A pretty busy place, and the director was extremely cordial to us. (He skipped a trip to Laos in order to receive our visit.)

It was a little strange at first doing eye exams in the shadow of a bust of Ho Chi Minh, but all in all I would say that the residents of this area and our hosts have all been very cordial, and grateful for our interest.

In short, we have A LOT to sift through. It is obvious there are great needs here, and hopefully we can devise a plan to help in some way.

More later...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Day 2 in Hanoi - Opening Ceremony

Officials from the Vietnam National Institute of Ophthalmology, Alcon-Vietnam and the IAO participated in an opening ceremony for the Fundamentals in Phacoemulsification course this morning (Tuesday, October 7). It was attended by all 20 students, a number of staff from the VNIO, and the local news media.

In the afternoon, another lecture took place, as well as the inauguration of the web lab constructed for the VNIO by Alcon. Drs. Rosselson and Nadimpalli instructed the course participants in basic phaco techniques and operation of the phaco machine. Tomorrow morning, Dr. Rosselson will perform two phaco cases of patients with very dense cataracts (not atypical in Vietnam). Dr. Nadimpalli will describe the procedure for the students who will be watching on a television monitor. Some more time in the wet lab also is scheduled.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Day 1 at the VNIO

The first day of our visit at the Vietnam National Institute of Ophthalmology was quite an experience. After a ride through the streets of Hanoi competing with thousands of people on motorbikes, we arrived at the Institute's front gate. There were literally hundreds of people there -- ranging from small children to older adults -- which is just one indication of the eye care needs in this country. We were greeted by a banner in the main courtyard recognizing the Illinois Association of Ophthalmology phaco course this week and next.

During our tour of the Institute, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with Dr. Do Nhu Hon, director of the NIO. He was very cordial and spent a lot of time with us. We were grateful to learn that he had traveled back to Hanoi from one of the provinces in order to meet us.

We also spoke with Dr. Hoang Thi Minh Chau, a cornea specialist, shared information about medical education in Vietnam and the functions of the NIO. A highlight of our tour was the opportunity to observe surgery. On two different floors, they have four operating rooms each with two cases underway simultaneously. NIO ophthalmologists, Vietnamese residents in training, and a couple of foreign ophthalmologists were all quite busy with a variety of cases. It was quite a well-organized system!

Finally, we observed the lecture room where the phaco course will be taught, as well as a brand new wet lab outfitted by Alcon. We were surprised to see a plaque on the wall recognizing the Illinois Association of Ophthalmology!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

We are here!

The IAO team is in Hanoi! This evening we will be meeting with Chiwin and Thu from Alcon-Vietnam to go over the final arrangements for the phaco course. Tomorrow morning, a tour of the Vietnam National Institute of Ophthalmology and a visit with the doctors there. The first lecture is tomorrow afternoon (Monday) with an opening ceremony and press conference on Tuesday morning. The first live surgery will be on Wednesday.

Hanoi is a busy city that appears to have most of the motorbikes on the planet.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Quang Tri Project

How, you may be asking, did the Illinois Association of Ophthalmology become interested in Quang Tri Province, Vietnam? And why are Dr. Jim Katz and IAO executive director Rich Paul going there? Best I can say is that it's almost the result of hapenstance.

While we were planning the logistics, we got in touch with a travel agency -- Global Spectrum -- which is located in the Washington, DC, area. They specialize in trips to Southeast Asia and, in particular, Vietnam. In a conversation with the agency owner, Marcia Selva, some issues of blindness and other possible eye diseases in Quang Tri Province came up. One thing led to another and the IAO leadership decided to see if there's something we can do to help address the needs there. The result is the "side trip" by Dr. Katz and Rich Paul to Dong Ha and surrounding areas.

The purpose of this visit is not to treat patients, but rather to get a handle on what sorts of eye care problems face the residents in Quang Tri. It appears that there is a rather high incidence of blindness, so the obvious question is: why? And what can be done about it? Our hope is that with the information gathered on our initial trip, plus other data collected, we will be able to put together a project to help address the needs in Quang Tri through a partnership with local organizations and the Illinois Association of Ophthalmology.

We are very grateful to be working with the Global Community Service Foundation, a non-profit associated with the Global Spectrum travel agency. In particular, their three representatives in Vietnam -- Dung K. Chu, Thang C. Dang (Dung's husband), and Tam X. Nguyen who is based in Quang Tri -- have been invaluable in organizing our trip. Tam has arranged visits to several locations throughout Quang Tri for Dr. Katz to conduct screening exams so we can better understand the eye conditions in the area.

We will be in Quang Tri from Wednesday, October 8 through Saturday, October 11. As the week progresses, I'll be posting reports about our experiences.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The First Team to Visit Hanoi

As I write this, it'll be only a week from today that the first group of IAO members will be departing for Vietnam. Three Chicago-area ophthalmologists will be teaching a two week phaco course. In the photo (from left to right), they are: James Katz, MD, who practices at Midwest Center for Sight in Des Plaines; Maria Rosselson, MD, of Chicago Cornea Consultants, Highland Park; and Chitra Nadimpalli, MD, of Wicker Park Eye Center, Chicago. Ronald C. May, MD (far right) of Ophthalmology Partners in Deerfield, is the IAO Project Vietnam director. Drs. Rosselson and Nadimpalli will share teaching duties the first week (October 6 - 10), and in the second week, Dr. Nadimpalli will be joined by Dr. Katz.

Our corporate partner, Alcon-Vietnam, has really come through to make the course happen. In addition to picking up nearly all of the costs (including our travel expenses), they are providing equipment, supplies and other materials. Meanwhile, the Vietnam National Institute of Ophthalmology is serving as host for the conference and is making their clinical and surgical facilities available. More later on all of the individuals who have worked hard to bring about this project.

This is no junket...each day will be packed. Typically, a lecture on a particular aspect of phacoemulsification surgery will be presented by one of the IAO members. That will be followed by a web lab and the next morning, 2-4 live surgery cases. The goal is for the students to have transitioned to phaco by the end of the course.

In about three months, we'll be sending another team of Illinois EyeMDs to Vietnam. They will travel to the provincial hospitals where the students practice to observe surgery and work with the Vietnamese ophthalmologists to refine their technique.

An opening ceremony is planned for Tuesday, October 7 with a press conference for local news media. I'll try to feed information back home, as well.

Standby for the next post. I'll write about "Jim's and Rich's Excellent Adventure to Quang Tri."

Monday, September 22, 2008

IAO's Project Vietnam -- why???

In October 2008, three members of the Illinois Association of Ophthalmology are travelling to Hanoi, Vietnam, to teach a course in cataract surgery (phacoemulsification). The large ophthalmic company, Alcon, is the corporate sponsor and the Vietnam National Institute of Ophthalmology is hosting the course.
Why would a bunch of ophthalmologists be involved in something like this, you might ask? As is true with a lot of initiatives, this has its genesis with the experience and vision of a single individual. In this case, it was Ronald C. May, MD, an ophthalmologist who practices in Deerfield, Illinois. About 40 years ago, he got an all-expense paid trip to Vietnam courtesy of the U.S. government to serve as an Army physician during the war. More recently, he has gone back to Vietnam as a tourist. It was on one of these trips that he attended a medical conference in Hanoi and had occasion to visit the Vietnam National Institute of Ophthalmology (VNIO).
Turns out his hospital in Highland Park, IL, was getting some new cataract surgery machines and he thought the VNIO might find some use for the perfectly good equipment that was going to be retired. Although that export couldn't be worked out, discussions with Alcon executives developed into the "phaco" course in Hanoi.
As a longtime board member of the Illinois Association of Ophthalmology, Dr. May thought it would be a wonderful project for the group, and the IAO leadership agreed. Nearly 30 members already have expressed an interest in participating.
In our next post, we'll outline the basic concepts behind the course, and we'll report on an interesting side-project that may develop as an offshoot.
During the first course in October, Rich Paul -- IAO's executive director (and the author of this blog) -- will report "from the field." I hope you will find these reports to be of some interest.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Welcome to the IAO blog! We'll post information, ideas, news and comments here from time to time. The Illinois Association of Ophthalmology is a professional society of ophthalmologists -- physicians to specialize in medical and surgical treatment of eye disease and routine vision care.

Be sure to check back to view posts about our upcoming project in Vietnam! Several of our members will be traveling to Hanoi, Vietnam to teach cataract surgery in conjunction with the Vietnam National Institute of Ophthalmology and our corporate partner, Alcon Inc.

Thanks for joining our blog.

Rich Paul
Executive Director
IL Assn of Ophthalmology