San Francisco vision doctor helps out in Vietnam

Medical technology is saving more premature babies in Vietnam, but that same technology puts the children at risk for a disorder that could leave them blind. See how one Bay Area(San Francisco) doctor is making a difference half a world away.

Three-year-old Nguyen was born premature in Ho Chi Minh City. The high amounts of oxygen used to keep him alive also damaged the blood vessels in his eyes, resulting in blindness.

“In the 1950’s in the United States, up to 25,000 babies would go blind a year because of retinopathy of prematurity. Now, in Vietnam, that same thing is happening all over again.” says pediatric ophthalmologist Douglas Fredrick M.D.

Today, doctor’s can treat retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) with a laser if it’s detected early. That’s Why Dr. Douglas Fredrick at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital is a mentor to doctor’s from Vietnam.

The effort is sponsored through a global non profit organization called Orbis International. Fed Ex is the corporate sponsor that provides financial and logistical support.

“They spend two months with me learning about retinopathy of prematurity, learning how to diagnose the condition and treat the condition,” says Fredrick.

Dr. Nguyen Thanh Chi is the eighth doctor in five years to shadow Dr. Fredrick. Dr. Chi returns to Da Nang Eye Hospital next month. She’s eager to practice what she’s learned here and share her new skills with other doctors. Just as she has been empowered, the student will soon be the teacher.

“First of all, I will teach others in order to improve knowledge about pediatrics,” says Chi.

Dr. Fredrick estimates some 500 children in Vietnam have had their vision saved as a result of the mentoring program.

“I can’t think of anything more significant than taking a child who has every opportunity to see clearly for the rest of their lies and preserving that vision so they have a chance to see normally.”

Dr. Chi says more laser equipment is needed for rural hospitals in Vietnam, but at least now, more doctors have a clear vision of how to diagnose a problem and change a life.