Doing a medical mission in Vietnam was never an easy affair, most of the time, it’s one kind of frustration or another. Over the year, Anh Paul and I acquired more experience in dealing with multitudes of issues from unruly students to lack of medical supplies. These obstacles shall be overcome! Mission shall be accomplished! However, there was one issue that could destroy all of our plan and threaten to shut down our mission and that was the permit. Every year, getting the permit was our top worry, we would never know if we arrived in Vietnam and allowed to work or we had to packed up and scrambled for another location.
But the year 2015 was the year that I forever grateful that the permit issue blew up in our face again. You see, we were supposed to have the backing of the Red Cross to work in Binh Chanh – a poor town on the outskirt of Saigon. Everything was friendly and celebratory until the night before our first scheduled clinic, the Red Cross informed us that we didn’t have permit and not allowed to see patients. So, we forgot about the two-timed Red Cross and scrambled to get permit at another location on our own. After several days of begging and filling out all kind of paperwork with the Health Department, we were finally permitted to work in District 8. A point of digression here: since that time, we knew the process of applying for medical mission permit which was the vital knowledge for our organization! So that was the first thing that I was grateful about.
The second thing that I was grateful about was that we found the little boy Nguyen Tran Minh Dat in District 8. I still liked to think that everything happened for a reason and that the Bodhisattva wanted to help that boy. We hold clinic in District 8 in Hong Duc elementary school. The usual, every day we saw 600 plus patients of all age. Dat’s mother was taking his baby sister to the clinic for a fever and runny nose. Her two healthy older boys were tagging along, Dat, her younger son was fine although he was kind of slow and ran out of breath quickly when he played with the neighborhood kids. Dr. Juan Ruiz was examining the baby when he noticed a very blue boy standing next to the mother. He quickly examined the boy, suspected Tetralogy of Fallot and called for Dr. Sherie Olsen who confirmed the diagnosis. Dr. Olsen would never forget the mother’s reaction when she inquired about the boy’s symptom. She was all shaken when she realized that her seemingly normal healthy boy actually had a lethal condition if left untreated. Somehow the boy’s heart condition was not diagnosis at birth and his parents didn’t know that his slowness and bouts of shortness of breath was serious symptoms.
Soon after the Summer Service Camp, one of our volunteers, Ms. Le Dieu Linh took Dat to the University of Medicine and Pharmacy Hospital where he had corrective surgery for his heart condition. Over the next two years he would undergo 3 open heart surgeries. His extended family rallied to his help. His mother’s uncle took the whole family to live with him so he can help take care of Dat. The social worker in the neighborhood certified that Dat’s family is “near poverty” level with a sick child so they qualified for some governmental assistance. It’s barely a token but it’s still helpful.
Every year I visited Dat, he grew into a sweet, happy, active and PINK boy. He was not a blue and short of breath anymore. He started to go to school and now he was in second grade at Hong Duc Elementary school where he was found. The family still struggle at “near poverty” level despite both parents working. But they have the support of the extended family and the neighborhood and all three children were thriving. I am just grateful that we didn’t get permit to work in Binh Chanh and we ended up in District 8 and we found Dat. It was mean to be!