VINH CITY, Vietnam (July 13, 2012) A three-year-old Vietnamese girl high-fives Hospitalman Hector Hernandez during physical therapy aboard the Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy during Pacific Partnership 2012. She is receiving scar reduction treatment aboard the USNS Mercy to improve her appearance, mobility and dexterity of limbs.(Photo by Kristopher Radder)

VINH, Vietnam (July 16, 2012) - A three year-old Vietnamese girl’s life has been changed after Vietnamese health officials and Pacific Partnership 2012 (PP12) doctors worked together to provide the young burn victim access to increased mobility.

Doctors aboard Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), where the surgery took place, focused on reducing scar tissue so that the girl would have increased mobility to move her joints and improve her ability to walk.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Valerie Tokarz, lead surgeon for the procedure, said, “When I evaluated her at the surgical civic action project, it was clear that she had a difficult time standing and could hardly bare any weight on her feet.”

The girl was recently a victim of a house fire that burned nearly 70 percent of her body.

“Around her lower torso, they found that she has significant scarring, which if which if treated with laser scar revision and physical therapy may make it easier for her to move,” said Tokarz.

“We targeted scarring around her knees, the front and backsides of her ankles, the tops of her feet and the backsides of her hands to help her gain back movement. This combined with physical therapy is believed to have helped her regain some of her immobility lost due to the severe burn scar contractures.”

The child was treated with a carbon dioxide microfractional ablative laser or “Deep FX” onboard the USNS Mercy. This is the first time a laser like this has been brought on a U.S. military humanitarian mission. The laser uses cutting edge technology which allows the beam to penetrate deep into scar tissue, while leaving a percentage of normal skin intact to allow for faster recovery. This new type of laser surgery is a safe and less painful method of penetrating deep into the skin and through scar tissue.

The girl’s mother said she never thought something like this could happen to her family.

“She has been through 14 treatments since the incident,” said the mother.

Studies have found significant improvement in healing and range of motion with use of this type of laser technology, even after a single treatment. This case is such an example where the single treatment session combined with physical therapy helped improve mobility.

“Words cannot say how lucky I feel for us to be on Mercy,” said the little girl’s mother.

“Everyone that has helped take care of my daughter has shown so much love for her and me. This is finally making her feel independent again.”

Ens. Alex Tonsberg, a nurse aboard USNS Mercy, said the girl was able to walk soon after her surgery.

“She was able to walk around, take normal steps and was handing out stickers to everyone,” she Tonsberg. “She is actually able to move her legs the way they are made to move.”

The girl was discharged from the hospital ship on 15 July, and will likely need to continue a course of treatments.

“I am very thankful for the Mercy, for the doctors and nurses, for what they have done for my daughter,” said the mother.

Surgery aboard Mercy in support of PP12 is free of charge and has helped change the lives of hundreds of people in both small and large ways through a multi-national, multi Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) team of doctors and nurses and other personnel who are exchanging cultural awareness, professional techniques, and learning to work together as a team.

Now in its seventh year, Pacific Partnership is an annual U.S. Pacific Fleet humanitarian and civic assistance mission U.S. military, host and partner nations, non-governmental organizations and international agencies designed to build stronger relationships and disaster response capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region.

For more information about the PP12 mission, please visit the Pacific Partnership Blog or engage with Pacific Partnership on Facebook and Twitter.