Our Kien Giang cardiac medical mission team met Thuy Linh for the first time in October 2013 during our annual education and training site visit at Kien Giang General Hospital in Rach Gia city, Kien Giang province. Thuy Linh was brought to our mission cardiologist’s (Dr. Candace Dick) attention and our cardiac sonographers’ team by the staff pediatrician. In 2013, Thuy Linh was 8 years old with a severe congenital heart defect and resulting deteriorating aortic valve. Kien Giang General Hospital had just inaugurated their Heart Center, which focused mostly on adult cardiac patients. Thuy Linh’s complicated heart defects were beyond the ability of the heart surgery and post op teams at this local hospital.

We were warned that Thuy Linh only had a few months to live, as her heart condition had deteriorated rapidly, and her condition worsened with each day passed. Thuy Linh is the middle child of three sisters in her family. They had just lost their young mother to untreated meningitis, their father abandoned them soon after their mother’s death and moved away with no forwarding address. Thuy Linh and her sisters were left to care for by her paternal grandparents in a district several hours away from the hospital where she was last examined. The family, who lived in extreme poverty, could not support the children’s daily needs of food and lodging. Medical treatments for the severe heart condition that Thuy Linh suffered were not an option, considering the expensive cost, logistics, and unavailable options at Kien Giang Hospital at the time.

Dr. Dick had a chance to examine Thuy Linh and reviewed the results of her echocardiogram with the local staff. She decided to step in and donated the necessary funding to help save this little girl’s life as soon as possible. In October 2013, we were able to arrange for Thuy Linh to travel to Saigon on a 6-7 hour bus ride to see a renowned pediatric cardiologist at Nhi Dong 2 Hospital (Children’s Hospital 2). Our Saigon based volunteer, Dieu Huong Phan, was in charge of logistics coordination and hospitalization for Thuy Linh and her grandmother during this initial intervention.

Initial echocardiography results performed by Dr. Tri Viet, pediatric cardiologist at CH2 Hospital revealed a congenital ventricular septal defect (VSD), a badly damaged aortic valve that was barely attached to the walls of the blood vessel, and a pulmonary artery valve stenosis. Immediate surgical intervention to fix her VSD and replace her aortic valve was ordered. With the donated funds by our IHVN cardiologist and the subsidized cost by the Ministry of Health Funds for the poor to cover her hospitalization expenses, Dr. Tri Viet and his staff were able to secure the donation of a much-needed valve to fix Thuy Linh’s heart and save her life. Her first open heart surgery was done on January 6, 2014, followed by a second intervention on June 23, 2014 to fix the stenosis of her pulmonary artery valve with a donated stent.

In 2013, Thuy Linh’s family was told she would need another round of surgeries when she reached her teenage years. Our Vietnam based volunteer, Dieu Huong Phan, has been the key planner and coordinator of Thuy Linh’s subsequent follow up visits to CH2 Hospital to see Dr. Tri Viet since her discharge in 2014. Whenever our medical mission team returned to Kien Giang since 2013, Thuy Linh would receive a follow up examination by our IHVN cardiac team. She was last seen by our IHVN cardiologist in December 2019. With the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic travel ban, our medical mission team has not been able to return to Vietnam. Thuy Linh is now 16 years old; her heart valve will need another surgical intervention soon. IHVN team is working with our Saigon based coordinator to start the planning process.