We would like to dedicate this newsletter to Dr. Ling Sing Yew who passed away this year. He was an original member of our medical team and came with us this time despite ongoing medical treatment for his illness. He was a kind, selfless, and truly compassionate human being. Dr. Ling was a participant in many medical missions giving freely of his time and talents. One always found him optimistic and smiling. He will be greatly missed by his family, friends, and colleagues, as well as those who benefited from his surgical skills.
Our planned medical mission trip for 2003 was cancelled due to the SARS outbreak in SEAsia. Our third trip then took place in February 2004. This trip was a bit of an adventure for myself, my son, Kyle and Ivey who were relocated back to the USA from our homes of many years in Singapore.
The planning and coordination for this mission was more complicated and involved a twenty-two hour flight for us as well. Fortunately, Dr Fong Poh Him on an earlier trip to Phnom Penh was able to connect with several medical facilities and establish patient referrals for the team.
Our medical team consisted of Dr. Fong Poh Him, Dr. Ling Sing Yew, Dr. Lee Chong Hwa, (James), Dr. Lee Kheng Hin, Dr. Cathering Jessop, Christine Wagner, and Ivey Peterson. Barbara Rinehart, her daughter Cassie, Helen , and Kyle Wagner were our volunteers.
We packed up our supplies into thirty boxes and managed their transport to the airport with US Navy assistance. Unfortunately however once we arrived in Phnom Penh our boxes were held up in customs. Several of the boxes had the supplies needed to begin surgery. The team went on ahead to get set up at the hospital and Catherine and Chris stayed with Dr. Say Sengly, Director of Municipal Hospital to try to get these supplies released. We were not successful so we implemented plan B and made a trip with the doctor to the “medical” market to purchase the surgical supplies we needed. I was amazed to find everything we needed in a small store off a dusty non-descript street, and all within our budget. The boxes were released two days later after much effort on the part of Dr. Say Sengly.
The medical team split up to work, our home base remaining Municipal Hospital. The team also worked with Dr. Kendrick Kahler at Clinic Preah Ket Mealea, Dr. Mok Theavny at Prehbat Norodom Sihanouk Hospital, and with the staff of Sihanouk Hospital Center of HOPE. It was a very hectic five day mission as it was often difficult to keep track of everyone traveling between four facilities. Expanding the mission allowed the medical team to do more complicated surgeries as well as the usual surgical removal of scars, lesions, and cleft lip repair. The doctors preformed thirty five surgeries this trip. Included were the removal of a maxillary tumor from a young woman, removal of a large lipoma from the back and neck of a patient, and a lymph biopsy on a lymphoma patient. They also surgically excised an extensive basal cell carcinoma from a patient’s face, did an extensive burn scar revision which required reconstruction of the lip, nares, and neck contracture release. There were two patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the lip that required complex reconstruction and one with cancer involving the ear. They also did cleft lip repair and surgically corrected a patient with bilateral ptosis of the eyelids. Our orthopedic surgeon, Dr. James Lee Chong Hwa, preformed a shoulder fracture reduction and a bone graft on a tibial fracture that had not healed properly. The neurosurgeon, Dr. Lee Kheng Hin evaluated several patients but was only able to do a tracheostomy on a young boy who had fallen from a building. Both surgeons found that the hospitals lacked equipment necessary to function a Western standards making it difficult for them to treat patients.
The team as usual was very adaptable, quick thinking, innovative, calm, and as ever resourceful. No job was too small and everyone pitched in where they were needed. This trip was a wonderful example of compassion and the true spirit of selfless giving. The Cambodian people have a stoicism and a joy in the simplicity of life that is not common in the West. We all received back ten times what we gave.
Our volunteer team spent quite alot of time at SFODA orphanage. We provided rice, fruit, sweets, school supplies, sports equipment, and art materials. There is a young boy at the home that is a wonderful painter. He paints Cambodian scenes in oils. Several of us bought his paintings. Our hope is that he can get more exposure for his work and be able to attend an art school to further his skill. Helen provided him with much needed are supplies.
We paid a visit to Geraldine Cox’s, Sunrise Children’s Village and were pleased to see Vannak, a fourteen year old boy at the home that Chris and Kyle sponsor.
Peaceful Children’s Home I invited us for lunch on our last day. We took the whole team. We enjoyed a relaxing day and were treated to their wonderful Khmer dancing and singing. We were able to distribute the supplies we brought as well as food and money towards the purchase of rice. Our boys were challenged to a basketball game with the new balls and nets we provided. They had a rousing, sweaty game and retired to play video games brought in by a Dutch volunteer.
Kyle and Cassie at thirteen the youngest of our volunteers were at times overwhelmed by the poverty surrounding them. Kyle spent some time in surgery with Dr. Fong and Dr. Ling. Their surgery involved a young woman, horribly disfigured by acid burns to the face and neck. He gained a new understanding of the complexity of surgery and a compassion for the patient. He will never forget this trip. Cassie spent alot of time with the children of SFODA. They took several of them to the mall in the city. Sotea had never been on an escalator and was so fearful she needed alot of encouragement from them to get on it. This was a big surprise for our kids.
Even though we are now home and have picked up the threads of our normal lives we won’t soon forget the Khmer people we came in contact with. Whether they were children or patients or hospital staff they have brought something into our lives that will forever remain.
THANK YOU- To the US Military Chapel in Singapore for their generous donation, also to the military personnel that helped us load our boxes, and the US military community in Singapore for their support of our bake sale fundraisers and their donations. To Goldplus Universal Pte. Lted. for their donation of cases of Vitamin C. To Sara for her donation raised from car wash profits she initiated to help us. To Jacquie Kubicki for her donations and fundraising assistance. To the Singapore American School National Honor Society for their donation of money and sports equipment.