A couple of hours after touching down in Sydney last week I was back in my consulting rooms seeing some post-op patients from the week before. Despite being back in familiar surrounds, I came away from my week delivering surgical education in Vietnam reminded by a special patient with a simple message “Don’t forget to sparkle!”
During the previous week my colleagues (an esteemed group of surgeons, Vito Quatela, Jen Kim & Mack Cheney, all Fellows and “Grand-Fellows”) and I had the privilege of helping patients like this to regain that sense of sparkle. We spent the first two days delivering surgical education to 26 enthusiastic local residents and surgeons at the ENT Hospital of Vietnam. Then, after hosting an epic clinic with over 60 microtia patients, we performed 10 ear reconstruction surgeries in 4 operating rooms, every day for 5 days, for sparkling young patients born with microtia, and other adult patients with acquired auricular deformities.
The pictures on the left below show a child with hemifacial microsomia who has had auricular reconstruction with a complete cartilage framework. The set of photos on the right is an adult who lost his ear in a car accident. He had auricular reconstruction with a partial cartilage framework keeping the lower part of his ear using a technique taught to me by my mentor, Dr Françoise Firmin, a pioneer in the field of ear reconstruction.
It was a pleasure to be able to pass on these techniques, and it also struck me that teaching others requires me to hone my own skills and to reflect deeply on exactly how and why I make decisions. It is an intense experience but certainly makes me a better surgeon. And I had plenty of opportunity to practice carving ears, even in the back of a taxi when stuck in traffic! My own pride is reflected in the smiling faces of the local surgeons who were so welcoming and so committed to learning. I know that they will go on to make a huge difference in their own country. I will follow their journey with great pleasure on our new WhatsApp group and can’t wait to return next year.
Busy days certainly didn’t mean that I missed experiencing the fabulous Vietnamese culture. Just moving around Hanoi is a sensory overload. Scooters ply the streets beside bicycles, and still dominate cars as the preferred mode of transport (even for clever dogs). And we were spoilt by our Vietnamese hosts, sampling the wonderful cuisine, particularly delicious when eaten street-side!
Just as my experiences in Haiti last year inspired me, so too has Vietnam and I am honoured to keep this reminder in my study. Thank you again to HUGS Foundation and the Kletjian Foundation for supporting this incredible mission trip, and I hope I can contribute to more trips like this in the future.
And of course, “don’t forget to sparkle!”
Update May 2019
Great to receive photos showing the progress of some patients 2 months after their surgery.