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Doctors Partner in Vietnam to Enhance Cooperation, Improve Patients' Quality of Life

18 August 2013

From Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class David Kolmel

U.S. Navy medical personnel are working alongside Vietnamese doctors Aug. 15- 28 in Hanoi to enhance rehabilitation for burn victims.

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii - U.S. Navy medical personnel are working alongside Vietnamese doctors Aug. 15- 28 in Hanoi, Vietnam, to enhance rehabilitation for burn victims.

Formally, this will be phase two of the "Interventional Burn Management Subject Matter Expert Exchange." The team's four members will help expand treatment capabilities at the National Institute of Burns in Hanoi, bringing medical supplies and performing cutting-edge laser and surgical care to improve the quality of life for patients with debilitating scars and scar contractures.

Last year, medical experts aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) performed similar treatments in Vietnam as part of Pacific Partnership 2012. This was the fourth time in five years the annual Pacific Partnership mission had visited Vietnam to conduct humanitarian civic assistance missions, and the first ever to include laser treatments for scars.

"I view this type of smaller scale, higher intensity exchange as an effective bridge between the biennial USNS Mercy missions associated with Pacific Partnership, aimed at increasing familiarity, trust, and enhancing the effectiveness of future missions," said Cmdr. Peter Shumaker, chairman of dermatology at Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD). "Projects of this type are also an effective way to build a cadre of medical personnel familiar with the region and to gain expeditionary experience during peacetime."

Several types of U.S. medical specialists will work with the Vietnamese doctors at the burn institute.

"A plastic surgeon, a dermatologist, pulmonary specialist, and an orthopedic surgeon are working as a team to help improve patient functionality," said Lt. Damita Zweiback, Pacific Fleet medical planner. "Many of the patients we saw during Pacific Partnership '12 had restrictions of movement and even breathing because of the complexity of the burns."

The U.S. experts will share the lessons they learned in Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.

"Our Vietnamese colleagues will benefit from learning enhanced burn care management techniques and procedures that we've developed from our recent wartime experience, which will improve their ability to deal with these types of injuries in the future," Capt. Jonathan Wilcox, Pacific Fleet deputy fleet surgeon, said.

A fractionated carbon dioxide laser, identical to the one used during Pacific Partnership 2012, will be employed to help remodel restrictive scars and improve the quality of life for the patients. Although still a relatively new application, this technology has been used for several years to help treat wounded warriors.

"This is essentially the same breakthrough technique that we have used for approximately four years for functional and cosmetic improvements in our wounded warriors and other traumatically injured patients," said Shumaker.

These types of programs develop relationships among professionals in the Indo-Asia-Pacific as they exchange information and build shared experience. They pave the way for future exchanges, including a pulmonary subject matter expert exchange between NMCSD and providers from the Vietnamese National Lung Hospital, currently scheduled to occur later this month.

"We're developing long-term professional and personal relationships with our Vietnamese colleagues," Wilcox said. "By working together to improve the lives of many Vietnamese patients who have suffered debilitating trauma from burns and other related injuries, we're building the capability to better deal with these types of injuries in the future."

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