MACON – Members of the Mercer On Mission prosthetics program returned to Vietnam, Feb. 5-19, where they set up a third clinical base to fit amputees in the country and also met with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sangand other government officials.
Dr. Craig McMahan, dean of chapel and University minister, and Chris R. Sheridan, president of Macon-based Chris R. Sheridan & Co. General Contractors, accompanied Dr. Ha Vo, associate professor of biomedical engineering, and Mercer students Trung Le, Bich Nguyen and Matt Yin on the trip.
In the southern city of Ben Tre, the team trained one doctor and four technicians on both the biomechanical functionality of Dr. Vo's patented Universal Socket Prosthetic as well as the protocol for fitting the low-cost, highly durable leg prosthetic.
"Normally, we have only two people fitting in the country year-round," said Dr. McMahan, who oversees the University's Mercer On Mission initiative. "Now that we have an additional five fitters year-round, we anticipate the volume of fittings to significantly increase. The newly trained fitters seemed very adept and very hardworking, and were working independently by the time we left."
With clinical bases in the cities of Ben Tre, Can Tho and Phung Hiep, Dr. McMahan anticipates that the seven Vietnamese fitters and the Mercer On Mission teams that visit the country each summer can fit as many as 2,000 amputees per year.
The team was encouraged by the reception it received from Vietnamese officials, including the president, minister of planning and finance, and director of the People's Aid Coordinating Committee (PAACOM).
The government not only made arrangements for the five new fitters to be trained, but also provided information regarding how the program can operate as a legitimate non-profit business in the country, such as how to purchase a vehicle so that the year-round fitters can travel among the clinics. The visitors were also given leads for additional sources of funding for the program.
"The government is becoming increasingly aware of our program and is taking concrete steps to facilitate its expansion by adding fitters and clinical space," added Dr. McMahan. "Officials were very helpful in providing information and direction regarding our presence in Vietnam."
The team fitted a total of 40 amputees during the two-week visit, and the three students were tested to receive certification to work independently as fitters on future trips.
Dr. Vo, Dr. McMahan and more than a dozen students plan to return over the first three weeks of June to establish a fourth clinical base, this one in the Binh Phuoc province, which is an impoverished region that includes upwards of 15,000 amputees.
Last summer's Mercer On Mission team fitted 465 amputees over 16 days, and to date, the program trained more than 100 students representing a variety of academic disciplines and fitted more than 3,000 prosthetics during nine trips to Vietnam and one to Haiti.
For more information on Mercer On Mission, the University's unique blend of study abroad and service-learning that provides life-changing experiences for students through academic instruction, cultural immersion, meaningful service and spiritual reflection, visit mom.mercer.edu.