As 12-year-old Nguyen Viet Lam is taken to the operating theatre at Hanoi’s Military Central Hospital 108 he grips a nurse’s hand tightly, not looking back.
|LIFE-CHANGING: Surgeons from a hospital in Canada work side by side with medics from Vietnam at Central Military Hospital 108 in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of James Newton/Facing the World.|
Behind him, watching through the window as the sliding doors close is his father, Nguyen Van Khang.
Moments earlier he had been telling his son to stay strong, to be confident, and reassuring him that everything was going to be okay.
Now, as the doors close and his boy is led away, tears stream down dad’s face. It was a good thing Lam didn't turn around.
Born with severe facial deformities, Lam has only ever really wanted one thing in life – to look like his friends do.
“He wanted to socialise but his face was different,” said Khang. “His friends kept making fun of him, staring and pointing at him. He has been very conscious of it.”
But now, thanks to Facing the World (FTW), a UK-based charity, Lam will soon fit in. He will look like all the other boys and girls he calls friends. No longer will he stand out from the rest for all the wrong reasons.
“The plan is to rebuild his cheekbones using his own tissue we take from his skull,” said Dr Christopher Forrest, a plastic surgeon from SickKids, a hospital in Toronto, Canada.
“We make an incision across the top, we will hide the scar in the hairline, we will take some bone from the skull and we will use it to make some brand new cheekbones for him and that way he will be able to have a better facial balance and fit in society better.”
Lam is one of many children in Vietnam that have a whole new lease on life thanks to Facing the World.
But this is far from a simple, quick fix.
The charity is offering assistance in the form of experts from the US, the UK, and Canada.
But instead of just coming to Vietnam, operating, and then taking the first flight home, Facing the World are here to stay.
Katrin Kandel is the CEO of the charity that was launched in 2002 by two surgeons who wanted to help children with disfigured faces by enabling them to have craniofacial surgery.
“We are exclusively operating in Vietnam, so we are very much focused on training,” said Kandel.
“We do that through sending Vietnamese doctors from the units we are establishing abroad for international fellowships to the UK, to Canada and to the United States.
“And at the end of the day that is what we are trying to help, the children that are born in Vietnam with facial abnormalities.
“Ours is all about creating sustainable solutions. We believe that through this amazing international network that we have developed, we have the answer to a sustainable solution.
“We believe in five to eight years, we will have the units established in Vietnam that can be given back to Vietnam, and then Vietnam has the ability to start training doctors from other countries.”
But all of this amazing work and effort comes at a cost. While the doctors offer their time and expertise for free, there are still huge expenses that need to be covered.
Flights, accommodation and more importantly, the cost of training Vietnamese doctors overseas.
|WORKING TOGETHER: Katrin Kandel (front, second from left), CEO of Facing the World signs a sponsorship deal with General Director of Vietnam Grand Prix Corporation, Lê Ngoc Chi. Photo courtesy of James Newton/Facing the World|
Last week Vietnam Grand Prix Corporation, the company who will be organising next year’s Formula One race in Hanoi, pledged their support.
“I think this is going to transform the work that we do,” Kandel said.
“It’s a worldwide brand, it has an extremely large viewership. At the top of the season you have 450 million people watching the race. We want to focus the world’s attention on the activities of the charity, which really are about the children.”
The General Director of Vietnam Grand Prix Corporation, Le Ngoc Chi, said: “We are honoured to join hands with Facing the World to support babies with birth defects to have a good and more beautiful life.
“F1 is an international sporting event in Vietnam and we want to take this opportunity to raise awareness so that FTW can call for the necessary support and carry out their mission, improve the lives of the children, strengthening the training and research of doctors so that they can carry out their noble work.”
Facing the World work with several hospitals in Vietnam. Last week they performed surgeries on 12 patients including both children and adults at Central Military Hospital 108 in the capital.
Dr Vu Ngoc Lam, director of the hospital’s Centre for Craniofacial and Plastic Surgery, said: “Our hospital has signed a collaboration deal with Facing the World lasting five years with a focus on capability training and transfer of surgical techniques.
“We hope with the existing techniques, facilities, and doctors, we will be able to approach and take over the new techniques so we can perform operations with high level of difficulty by ourselves.”
“Facing the World has also helped the hospital open the Centre for Craniofacial and Plastic Surgery, the first integrated and multidisciplinary centre in this field in Vietnam.”
Dr Forrest, who led the team carrying out the operations, said his team would always be available to offer help and support in the future.
“We are hoping this is the beginning of a long relationship,” he said.
“We have visiting surgeons and anaesthetists that come and visit at the hospital for sick children in Toronto and we will continue to come back and have a partnership with the 108.”
As for patient Lam, thanks to the hard work and dedication of so many people he can finally begin his new life, looking just like all his friends.
After more than five hours under the knife, the operation was deemed a success, and he is recovering well. VNS
Nguyen Viet Lam's story
Here is his story:
How Facing the World changes lives
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