Many people call her,
with affection, the ‘strange’ American woman as she sold her house in the US to
move to Việt Nam 10 years ago to help ill Vietnamese people.
Virginia Lockett has
worked as a volunteer at Đà Nẵng Traditional Medicine Hospital for seven years.
So why Việt Nam?
On the Steady
Footsteps website (http://www.steadyfootsteps.org) , a non-profit organisation
that she founded with her husband to help Vietnamese handicapped people, she
shared her desire to change physiotherapy in
Viet Nam to better treat stroke patients.
At 64 years old, she
is an American physical therapist with 40 years of experience. She and
her husband David, who is an artist, first came to Việt Nam in 1995 to adopt
two children. They were saddened by the seemingly hopeless situation of
disabled people in the country.
The Locketts returned
to Việt Nam in 2005 for a short-term volunteer project. She saw the
improvements in Vietnamese medical care and economy had made helping the
disabled more feasible. And yet many foreign-run assistance projects seemed to
be ineffective, due, in large measure, to minimal oversight by absentee
2005 trip convinced the couple that the efforts of two middle-aged,
middle-class Americans, dedicated to preventing head injuries and to
improving life for disabled people in Việt Nam, could be both effective. They
quit their jobs, sold their home, founded Steady Footsteps, and moved to
“We have yet to regret our decision,” she said.
Phùng Chiến, former director of Đà Nẵng City’s Health Department recalls many
stories about Lockett. What is the most extraordinary about this woman, he
said, is that she considered saving patients’ lives the meaning of her life.
2005, we were surprised when she came to see us to propose to work as a
volunteer. At that time, Vietnamese law didn’t require motorcycle riders to
wear helmets. But she bought 3,400 helmets to offer to employees working in the
medicine sector in the city. She said that the money to buy helmets is part of
the money from the sale of her house. We were deeply touched by her generosity.
As I observed her during her 10 years working for free to save Vietnamese
patients, she has extraordinary generosity,” he said.
has worked full time as a volunteer at the Đà Nẵng Traditional Medicine
Hospital for the last seven years.
of her patients suffered strokes or traumatic brain injuries due to motorbike
accidents. To treat them, she tries to establish eye contact, uses visual
demonstrations and focuses on functional activities. These methods help the
patients respond to brain damage more quickly than verbal instructions.
strokes, patients often have physical defects such as impaired walking. Based
on the patient’s disability, Virginia instructs them to practice everyday
movements, such as walking with a pair of sandals on. She also helps them walk
correctly. Gradually, their normal activities are rehabilitated. In addition,
she also teaches patient’s families some practical physical exercises, so that
they can help the patients practice and recover at home,” said Nguyễn Kim Diệu,
a doctor at the hospital.
Văn Ánh, the hospital’s director praised her experience and professionalism.
breathed new life in terms of physiotherapy into our hospital. She has
significantly changed practice here. The prestige of the hospital has increased
and the number of patients treated by physiotherapy has increased in our
hospital. She helped rehabilitate 300 patients over her first three years at
our hospital. Since then, she also trained many young therapists,” he said.
recalls that when she started working at the Đà Nẵng Traditional Medicine
Hospital seven years ago, she had exactly one stroke patient.
other day, our staff treated 71! Obviously, I am not personally treating
each patient every day. The young Vietnamese physical therapists that I
have trained are doing this, with my occasional assistance. And yet the
results that we have been achieving with these patients are so good that we are
attracting new patients from all over central Việt Nam, primarily through
word-of-mouth from previous patients and their families. I think that
that is the big story here,” she said.
of her most special patients is Nguyễn Tấn Hiền. He had an accident when he was
a student and his legs and arms became paralyzed.
helped him in physical rehabilitation. Seeing that he loved painting,
Lockett bought his paintings to encourage him. Then, he decided to become a
painter. His paintings have been now sold and displayed across the world.
I have today is down to Lockett and her husband. I respect them very much and
see them as part of my family,” Hiền said.
said she and her husband enjoy their life in Đà Nẵng that has become “their
home” and want to stay here for the rest of their lives.
feel that the work that I do here is important and effective and that gives my