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Revisiting Vietnam, plastic surgeon finds he’s made a difference

by Mary Ellen Stumpfl

At right, Randy Sherman, professor of surgery and chief of USC’s division of plastic surgery and reconstructive surgery, joins a physician in Vietnam in performing surgery

Surgeon Randy Sherman made a return visit to Vietnam this spring�a journey that resulted in a sense of satisfaction. “Coming back four years later, I could see that we are making an impact on the technology and our teaching is making a difference in the surgical care people are getting,” he said.

Sherman, a professor of surgery and chief of USC�s division of plastic and reconstructive surgery, has volunteered for the past 11 years with Operation Smile International, a nonprofit organization that provides corrective surgery to people all over the world.

During the five-day mission to Hanoi, Sherman a his team of 10 plastic surgeons, anesthesiologists and other health professionals, performed 28 surgeries on patients with deformities from burns, cancer and congenital conditions. While operating, the American physicians trained Vietnamese physicians in complex techniques.

“Our goal is to make the host physicians self-sufficient,” said Sherman. “They are highly skilled surgeons in many respects, despite lack of training in newer techniques.”

“We know that they are learning, because each time Operation Smile returns, the local physicians present us with more complex cases -� they raise the bar each time we return,” said Sherman. Local physicians screen patients throughout the year in preparation for the Operation Smile visit.

Of the 42 sites in 16 countries that Operation Smile visits each year, this mission was the only microsurgical mission. “We can plan only one microsurgical mission each year because it�s so labor intensive and the host site must be able to provide post-operative care to the patients.”

Sherman compares reconstructive microsurgery to transplant surgery. “It�s like transplant surgery, but instead of taking tissue from one individual and transplanting it to another, we are taking tissue from an individual and transplanting it to another part of their body.” Microsurgery involves the use of a microscope during surgery, connecting blood vessels less than one millimeter in diameter.

Instead of correcting mostly congenital deformities, the team focused mainly on people with burns caused by open flames, unsafe conditions and acid burns. The impoverished medical system in Vietnam and very few plastic surgeons makes “quality of life” care virtually unavailable.

The medical team brought much of their own equipment and used a military hospital�s operating rooms. The trip to Vietnam was Sherman�s 13th mission on behalf of Operation Smile. Since 1989 most faculty members of the plastic surgery division have been on at least one mission.

Revisiting Vietnam, plastic surgeon finds he’s made a difference

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