I've been a physiotherapist in Vietnam, volunteering in four
different hospitals, a school for disabled kids, and out in the
community in Da Nang, Hoi An, and rural Quang Nam since 2005. And while
my first years here were certainly educational for me and afforded me
the opportunity to personally help countless disabled Vietnamese people,
I--like every other foreign therapist I have spoken with--was unable to
make any significant impact upon the way in which Vietnamese-trained
physiotherapists practice physical therapy. As you can see from earlier
blog posts, I had in fact given up on trying to change practice here
and instead, since 2010, been focused solely on providing hands-on rehab
for patients at the Traditional Medicine Hospital of Da Nang
, a 140 bed
non-acute facility that had an abundance of stroke patients, but not
much to offer in terms of physiotherapy.
However, when Dr. Nguyen Van Anh became director of the facility a
year ago, everything changed. Not only did he immediately begin
renovating the sadly deteriorated hospital and grounds, he also
initiated several new projects, including a widely acclaimed drug rehab
And--of particular interest to me--he brought in a large number of
newly graduated Vietnamese therapists on a probationary basis and told
them that if they wanted to work in this hospital, they would be
required to follow and learn from me. This has made all the difference
in the world! Although neuro-rehabilitation is an especially
challenging aspect of physical therapy and although their earlier
training had left them without the ability to evaluate, plan and
implement effective treatment regimes for individual stroke patients,
our young therapists have been doing their very best under my guidance.
I would not say that they are "world class" therapists at this point,
but they are head and shoulders above any other therapists that I've
encountered in the ten years I've been volunteering in Vietnam. And
they continue to improve with each new patient that they treat. I am so
very proud of them!
Remarkably, word of mouth has already brought us an ever increasing
number of patients from the city of Da Nang itself and also from Hoi An,
Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, and Hue, as well as from the mountainous region
to the west and the off-shore islands of Cham and Ly Son. In fact, in
the days immediately following the Tet holiday this year, 45 stroke
patients were admitted to our service while other nearby rehab
facilities received but a few. Our patients now include not only those
who had been frustrated by ineffective rehab treatment they had received
elsewhere, but also new stroke patients, transfered to us directly
following their initial acute stay at the General Hospital of Da Nang.
Dr. Anh has a new vision, and I'd like to help him achieve that as well.
We would like to create an effective Early Intervention program for
children with cerebral palsy and developmental delays. Existing child
rehab programs in Da Nang attempt to deal piecemeal--with very minimal
success--with older children who have already developed contractures
and/or maladaptive movement patterns. We want to catch kids early and
work together with the child's family to guide them on a developmental
path which holds the best potential for their optimal development.
Thanks to our open-minded therapists and to our supportive
administration, we have a wonderful opportunity to do something great
for the disabled children of Da Nang and their families. Now all we
need is an experienced foreign paediatric physiotherapist to guide us in
our efforts. If you know of anyone who might be interested in such a
long-term volunteer opportunity, please send them our way!