Faculty of Medicine
Memorial University of Newfoundland

Vietnamese children benefit from Project Outreach

by Dr. Ruth Connors

Five years ago, Dr. Ruth (Condon) Connors, Class of 1984, founded Project Outreach to bring health care services to Vietnamese children. She wrote this account of her work for MUNMED.

In 1991 I became involved with an American not-for-profit charitable organization that allowed me to travel to third world countries, and teach my skill to the local healthcare providers. One trip took me to Vietnam. I worked with some wonderful, industrious and dedicated people, who overwhelmed me with their intense desire to learn and bring their skills and techniques up to date after so many years of isolation from the western world.

In 1992 I brought together seven pediatric healthcare workers, including nurses, surgeons, anesthetists and a pediatrician. I chose to return to central Vietnam, DaNang, where I had established contacts at the General Hospital (built by the American forces during the Vietnam conflict). In 1993, after much fundraising and paper chasing, Project Outreach was created.

Later that year we took our first trip to Ho Chi Minh and DaNang. The children came from all over the countryside, hoping to be chosen by our team for surgery. We assessed over 200 children for surgery. Many were in need of medical help our team and Vietnamese colleagues could not provide with the limited resources available in Vietnam. These children would die of illnesses that could be successfully treated and cured in Canada.

The inaugural mission of Project Outreach focused on reconstructive surgery for cleft lip and palates. We were fortunate to work with Vietnamese doctors and nurses, and solidify their expertise in the total care and techniques of caring for children with this defect. We accomplished our goal or leaving our Vietnamese colleagues independent from Project Outreach to care for children with cleft lip and palate. This is the true and lasting benefit of Project Outreach.

We have established an excellent relationship with our colleagues in DaNang. This has provided Project Outreach with an opportunity to continue the work and pass on our skills and knowledge in various areas of pediatric health care. Our highest priority is education. The operations our team accomplished are insignificant when you look at the big picture. The challenges faced in the day-to-day work were immense, given the limited resources of a country that has spent much of this century embroiled in the violence and upheaval of wards and revolution. The conditions our Vietnamese colleagues have to work in greatly limit their ability to begin highly advanced medical procedures and treatments. But they are eager to learn of ways to do as much as they can for their patients with what they have. We have provided lectures, journals, texts, and we have also donated surgical tools. Our Vietnamese friends have tremendous potential to help themselves and become independent from us in many areas of medicine.

We were fortunate to have a media team travel with us for our inaugural trip, and we received extensive news coverage. The news documentary has since won a media award. This has helped us raise the funds for return trips. In February of this year, Project Outreach returned to Vietnam with a 14-member healthcare team. The project accomplished several goals. We continued to build on the work we had begun in reconstructive and plastic surgery, and expand into the areas of pediatric eye diseases, urological surgery, nurse education at the School of Nursing, and an expanded lecture series.

I am overwhelmed with the response and support we have received both in Vietnam and also in Calgary. Never have I experienced such gratitude and appreciation for the work I love to do. At a time when there is frustration and uncertainty about the state of our health care system, it is humbling when I see that others in the world face even more difficult choices or no choice at all. Physician volunteers pay all their expenses.

Project Outreach continues to grow and gain support. We have changed some children's live and hope to change many more. This past trip we signed a five-year agreement with the Health Services of the Province of DaNang. Our long term goal is DaNang health care team independence from Project Outreach, and for DaNang health care workers to teach their new skills and knowledge to their colleagues in Vietnam.

The rewards of the kind of experience gained on Project Outreach are not tangible. For team members, and for those who help make the project possible through donations, the rewards are income for the soul.

Project Outreach will return to DaNang, Vietnam, in March 1998.

Dr. Connors completed a fellowship in anesthesia and two years of subspeciality training in pediatric critical care at the University of Western Ontario. She now lives in Calgary with her husband, Greg Connors (Class of 1983), two little girls and two black labs. She works at the Alberta Children's Hospital in the departments of anesthesia and critical care. Her e-mail address is ruth.connors.@crha-health.ab.ca.

Photo caption: Dr. Ruth Connors with the first patient treated by Project Outreach.

Last updated 29 Oct 1997 by