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Patient Stories

At Surgical Volunteers International, we believe the best way for you to understand the impact you can make in a patient’s life is through their story. Each and every patient we see faces their own unique sets of challenges, has their own individual goals, and reaches an unbelievable potential. Here are a few stories we wanted to share with you.

Patient Stories

Nguyễn Phú Đạt

Life is long or short, nobody knows. What remains is what you’ve given. Live and do not simply exist. I was born in a poor and rural area. Until now it has been the same, no running water, no electricity, and red dirt roads. Personally, however, this area is very peaceful and cozy. There was only one elementary school in my rural village; hence most of the kids here only finished elementary level of schooling. Only a tiny number of students can afford to rent boarding house to continue their schooling at other places. My family has five members, my parents, my sisters, one is older and one is younger than I, and me. Since my family was not well to do, only I received the investment for education.

I began to live away from home when I was 12 years old. I had to take care of all things by myself and it was pretty tough for me. I was staying with a family that I have not known before; I was homesick, and had to be very careful in daily activities such as eating and interacting with that family’s members. However, time flowed slowly and I got used to my new life.

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In 2006, my older sister died due to some severe illness. My family experienced more financial difficulties, but my dad determined to keep me in school. After finishing Middle school, I passed the entrance exam to attend Trị An High School, a school that only admitted students with highest entrance exam scores. I never foresaw that my happiness is incomplete because a terrible disaster was about to befall my little family.

To prepare for the new school year, my dad moved me to a rented room in an apartment complex near my new school. August 25, 2008 was the first day of school; it was also the last day I saw my dad’s body intact. About 5 o’clock in the morning of August 26, I heard my dad cried out loud, “Đạt! Fire! The house is burning.” I opened my eyes. I saw my dad’s body burning and the room was engulfed by fire. But somehow I glided back to sleep. Next I saw my dad breaking the door and carrying me out of the room. He cried and shouted with all his remaining might: “Please help my son…Please don’t give up on him…” I tried not cry, but right now, my tears are falling in reminiscence. To me, my dad is the greatest man. At that time, my mom was pregnant with another child. The accident was a horrible shock too big for her to bear. She miscarried. I had to stay six months in the hospital, underwent seven surgeries for skin graft and removing of gangrened toes. I was discharged in January 2009 with a large unhealed wound remaining on my shoulder.

By sixteen years old I have lost so many things. I lost a father who loved me so much. I lost an unborn sibling. I lost my look. But worst of all is the helplessness caused by the disfigurement of my fingers and toes. I could no longer control them. I could not do anything. I was stuck with the bed and a wheel chair in those days.
My life was at a standstill; my bed was positioned by the window. Looking outward I saw the birds singing and flying, kids running and playing with each other…The simple activities I have never paid any attention before now makes me feel bad for myself. I remembered my father, my older sister. Their memory encouraged me to retrain the remaining unbroken fingers to write; my handwriting was worse than those of kids just learning how to write. Even holding chopsticks and eating utensils was a tremendous challenge. I fell when I tried to get out of the wheelchair. It hurts. It is not a physical pain, but a pain deep inside. With the flowing tears I wondered why me, why my family? I remembered my father again and all his sacrifice, including his life, for me. I had to walk, to write, to go to school again so that his sacrifice was not wasted in vain.

After a year spent in re-training, I was able to limp with a crutch, to hold a pen, my handwriting however, was still very poor. By the end of December 2009, my mother took me to see a doctor for re-examining the wound on my shoulder. The doctor told my mother: “On 08 January 2010 there will be a charitable surgical group coming from the US to provide healthcare. You should try to take him to see the doctors for examination.”

January 8, 2010 was the day that changed my life. I received surgery free of charge, and the most wonderful thing is the help and assistance from Ms. Nina, Mr. Tom, Mss. Vân, Xuân, Fifi, Julie and many other doctors. When Ms. Nina and Mr. Tom learned of my burning desire to go back to school, they have provided great help to my family. Mr. Tom told me: “You still can see, can hear; hence, there is no reason for you not going back to school.”

I was able to come back to school in August 2010. For the subsequent trips of the charitable surgery group to Vietnam, Mr. Tom and Ms. Nina always find some way for me to be treated at the earliest available timeslot so that I wouldn’t miss any school day. And each time they came, they gave my mother a large sum of money for my tuition. Not only did they give financial support, they always sent emails to inquire how I have been doing and to motivate me to persevere. After the terrible accident, my family incurred a large debt for me to be treated at the hospital. In the beginning days of school, under the curious look from other people, I tried to find a secluded place to hide and cry. Those moments reminded of my parents’ sacrifice, of Mr. Tom, Mss. Nina, Fifi and others who have helped me. They are the motivation pushed me to continue until today. Had I not received their help, perhaps I am attending some school for the disabled.
In the beginning of last September, I have finished all course works of junior year in college. On September 19, 2016, I would begin my internship at Mekong HR Solution Corp, and beginning in October, I would be officially a senior, majoring in IT Technology with new plans beckoning in the future. Even though internship did not pay, but I also wish in a near future I would be able to study abroad to expand my horizon.

I graduated from college in May 2018 and am  now employed as a web developer at FPT company. All that I have achieved as of today is the result of my mother’s care and love, of Mr. Tom, Ms. Nina and other people. Mr. Tom told me: ‘Don’t you just thank me, study hard and help others who are worse off than you.” I deeply appreciate Mr. Tom, Ms. Nina, and others . I promise myself to study and work hard to become a useful member of society, like Mr. Tom, Ms. Nina and other people who have helped my family.

Patient Stories
Patient Stories
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Patient Stories

Zyad and his Mother

Zyad is the youngest of four siblings. His mother brought him in from Kafr El-Shaikh, a few hours outside of Mansoura, in the hopes of finally getting Zyad the operation he needed. The two repeatedly traveled to the hospital in Mansoura, fearing his condition will affect him in the long-term. Since her husband works six days a week, she often struggles with getting someone to watch their other three children whenever she has to brave the day-long trip to the hospital in Mansoura with Zyad.

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These trips were extremely taxing both financially and in terms of time spent away from the rest of her family. Despite the hardship of these trips, she was aware how much of an issue growing up with a cleft palate would be for Zyad and wanted a better life for him. She was already thinking ahead to when he would be starting school and challenges it would give him interacting with other children and forming friendships.

When she learned Surgical Volunteers International would be making a trip near their village, she took the opportunity to get Zyad the operation he needed without having to suffer the crippling financial burden of going to a private surgical practice.

With the support of MAP international and the medical supplies they provided, Surgical Volunteers International was able to repair his cleft palate. Because he was able to get this surgery done so young, he will be able to eat and speak normally for the rest of his life. His mother was relieved to know when the time came to start school, he would have no more concerns than any of his peers.

Thao Vo and Duc

My name is Thao Vo.  I would like to sincerely appreciate for the donation of Integra in February 2019 to Pham Tuan Duc, an 8-year-old boy, who had severe burn caused by alcohol.

I saw Duc on Facebook back in early of 2018. Quickly I asked my friend in Saigon Vietnam to help me gather his information then I sent to Shriners in Boston Massachusetts. Shriners accepted him soon after.  However, we were not able to bring Duc to the United States because the difficult of granting a visa. Since then I started looking for someone to help him in Vietnam. Duc’s parents wanted him to be treated by Dr Vu Quanh Vinh at Le Huu Trac Hospital in Ha Noi Vietnam. However, due to the cost of Integra was too much the family couldn’t afford. Fortunately, I was lucky to connect with Mr. Tom Flood by Dr. Thanh-Nga Tran at Harvard University in Boston. Mr. Flood had helped everything he could. He contacted Dr. Jamal Bullocks for help of getting Integra. After a short period of time we were told the company had donated Integra.

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Dr. Vinh received the Integra in March 2019. Duc came to the hospital couple days later. Dr. Vinh did the surgery a week after. Everything went well. Duc was dismissed about a month and a half. He is now doing well and a happy boy. He is very excited to go to school this August his first time every.

Without the help of Mr. Flood, Dr. Bullocks, Dr. Vinh, HEVY (who has sponsored to pay all the hospital, transportation and food for Duc and his family during the boy was at the hospital), everyone who involved, and of course donation from the Integra company Duc’s conditions would have still been worse.

Thank you again for your kindness,
Thao Vo

Patient Stories


Jorge is a 36 year-old farmer in Mexia, Guatemala. He works from 4 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day cutting and bundling wood from coffee plants to sell as tinder. For his intense labor, he receives the equivalent of $5 USD per day.

Jorge was born with a birth defect known as “cleft lip and palate”. Throughout his entire childhood and adult life, he has been so ashamed of his appearance that he only worked and spent time at home with his family. Although he has had a number of surgeries in the past, most of them when he was a child, the results were never satisfactory and left him feeling deformed and disgraced.

Each November, his village holds special festivals. During these festivals, young villagers dance, participate in special activities, and give in to romance. However, these were always times of sadness and embarrassment for Jorge because all the girls in the village refused to dance with him. For him, the idea of marriage and having a family of his own was out of the question.

One day, a man from a neighboring village told Jorge about a group of American doctors and nurses who were coming to a hospital near Guatemala City doing volunteer work in correcting conditions like his. He offered Jorge transportation to the City, and the two traveled a long and difficult road to the hospital for the possibility to get treatment.

Jorge was examined by the SVI team and was told that they could help fix his concerns, but that he would have to wait a couple days while babies and younger patients were taken care of. He gladly agreed, and although a little frightened, he patiently waited at the hospital for his turn.

Jorge’s operation took three and a half hours to complete. His scarred and distorted lip and palate were operated on to look as natural as possible.

When he awakened after the surgery, Jorge looked at himself in the mirror and beamed with excitement. For the first time, he began to realize the possibilities that await him. With tears in his eyes he said to the medical team, “God bless you. You have changed my life.”

Jorge went home a changed man with a smile on his face and, for the first time ever, hope in his heart for a better future.