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My Mission to India

February 23rd, 2014

My Mission to India
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Dr. Trieu with patient after cleft lip repair.

When Dr. Swati Patel, our department pediatric chief, approached me to join her on a mission to India with Medical Missions for Children (www.mmfc.org), I literally jumped at the opportunity. During my last year of residency at UCLA, I had the opportunity to travel to Arequipa, Peru with the Hearts with Hope Organization (www.heartswithhope.org) on a two week mission whose focus is to treat children with congenital cardiac malformations and providing much needed dental care. I have since started my pediatric anesthesiology fellowship at UCLA, and have been looking for another mission to participate in.

My passion to be involved in medical missions, especially with children, stemmed from my own experiences as a child. I was born in a developing country, Vietnam, where healthcare was minimal to nonexistent. My family and I fled the country when I was 5 years old. My first encounter with medical attention occurred when I set foot onto land from our boat into a refugee camp in the Philippines. We were greeted by numerous medical personnel- all complete strangers who spoke a language I did not understand. What happened next was a blur but what I do remember is that it involved a lot of shots since I had not been vaccinated before.

My family and I finally arrived in the United States when I was eight years old. We literally had nothing to our names and relied for many years on free health clinics. I remember one particular visit when I was sitting in the hot, overcrowded waiting room with my mom watching all the people thinking that one day, I can be the healthcare provider to the mass of patients who desperately need care. That first opportunity was in Peru, where a crowd of patients and their families traveling from far away for medical attention greeted us. When I looked into the crowd, I saw myself, but in reversed roles. It is difficult to describe the satisfaction and contentment that I experienced in being able to take part in helping these children. So, when invited to come to India for another mission, I definitely did not hesitate.

 Dr. Trieu caring for an older patient for cleft palate repair.
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Dr. Trieu caring for an older patient for cleft palate repair.

The mission took place in Phalodi, a small village in a remote region of Rajasthan, India. This year was the seventh year that Medical Missions for Children has provided medical services to this particular location, but it was the first year providing microtia repair and dental services. After 20 hours of travel by plane and another 4 hours by car, the 17-person team consisting of surgeons, anesthesiologists, a pediatrician, dentists, nurses and volunteers finally arrived to our destination, HBS Trust Hospital. The hospital was built by Dr. Shanti Jain to provide free medical services to the local people of Phalodi. Since her loss 21 years ago, her sister Dr. Kanti Jain and family, carry on her legacy. In anticipation of our visit, Mr. Devi Singh Rajpurohit, the hospital’s outreach coordinator, began recruiting months before from nearby villages by word of mouth and with enlarged pictures of children with cleft lips/palates and microtia installed on top of his car. Most of these families travel many miles and days, often by foot. The patients and their families are graciously provided with free lodging and food at the hospital for the entire week.

Dr. Trieu and Steve Glomstad, PACU RN, also from California.
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Dr. Trieu and Steve Glomstad, PACU RN, also from California.

The days started early and ended late with two operating tables running daily, but everyone showed up with a smile on their faces and helping hands. Providing anesthesia to children in such a remote location was a challenge, but we made do with what we had. For example, the very old anesthesia machine at my table worked well except the ventilator itself was nonfunctional. So the choices were to not use the machine leaving us with one operating table, hand ventilate the patient, or allow the patients to ventilate spontaneously. We opted for the latter and if need be, assisted ventilation by hand. The upside of allowing the patients to breath spontaneously was that we did not have to worry about the constant power outages that occurred throughout the day. I worked at the cleft lip/palate table daily where I was able to be fairly independent; a floating attending anesthesiologist was available for help if needed.

Our patient ages ranged from a few months old to early twenties. Being able to see the drastic difference on the kids’ faces after the procedure was very gratifying. These children will now live a normal life without others staring at them.

At the conclusion of the trip, our host expressed great appreciation for our presence and expertise. I was in complete awe of the dedication and genuine compassion that the Jain family has for their people. It is extremely rare to witness such sincere humanity in a person. I am inspired by the fact that a dream of one person has changed the lives of hundreds in this isolated region of the world.



Christine Trieu, MD
UCLA Pediatric Anesthesiology Fellow


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