A group of orthopedic surgeons, three from the Ventura County Medical Center, one from Community Memorial Hospital, and the others from San Diego, are on their way to Hanoi, Vietnam, where they will spend one week donating their time and skill to assist Vietnamese orthopedic surgeons with complex and intricate surgeries.

Emily Benson, M.D., Mary Ragsdale, M.D., and Damayea Hargett, M.D., all of the VCMC, along with Petros Frousiakis, M.D., of CMH, and Serge Kaska, M.D., and his assistant, will perform and assist in a slew of operations and surgeries during the week-long visit. The group will return to the States along with several senior Vietnamese orthopedic residents who will spend a week shadowing their American counterparts, culminating in attending the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons annual conference in San Diego. That is, if their visas are approved in time.

Dr. Benson works on a femoral fracture nonunion in Hanoi, 2016.

The M.D.s will operate at the Viet Duc Hospital, the largest surgical center in Vietnam.

“We study and train for years to gain knowledge, expertise and surgical skills for the purpose of caring [for] and treating patients or, in the case of orthopedic surgery, fixing bones, saving/reconstructing joints and limbs,” said Damayea Hargett, M.D. “This is an opportunity for us to share that knowledge and skills with our international orthopedic colleagues.”

Hargett says that many of the challenges the team will face will serve to enhance their orthopedic ability. The trip is self-funded, a choice that Hargett says is born out of a desire to provide services to those in need.

“This is because we all have a genuine desire to care for all, including those who are overlooked, often forgotten, have fallen through the cracks or been turned away, regardless of their insurance status,” said Hargett.

This isn’t the first time the team has traveled to Vietnam, but it will be the first for Hargett. Benson joined Kaska in 2016, when the pair traveled to Hanoi for a week. Benson says that the two were so busy, the only sightseeing she was able to do came via the morning walks to the hospital.

“We worked all day long every day that we were there,” said Benson. “That was one of the reasons why we wanted to get more orthopedic surgeons. Serge and I were exhausted when we got back.”

The team will assist the Vietnamese surgeons with more complex surgeries, such as nonunion or malunions, bone breaks that either did not heal properly or were never treated to begin with. Benson says that surgeons in Vietnam use a special type of nailing system to assist in healing and that they are especially skilled at it.

“Here in the United States, we have X-rays readily available, so that’s become standard of care here, but it’s really cool to learn how to use different systems of nails,” said Benson. “A nailing system is something you can use to treat a long bone, like a femur fracture. You put a really long nail down the center of the bone to keep it straight.”

Benson says that on top of making her a better surgeon, it makes her grateful for what she has as a surgeon in the United States. She says that the surgeons in Vietnam aren’t much different from those back home, or anywhere else for that matter.

“Orthopedics are basically the same everywhere,” said Benson, describing the Vietnamese orthopedic practice of using long nails to set broken femurs as “gnarly and awesome.”

The surgeons will work from March 3 to 11 in Hanoi. Benson says that she hopes for her Vietnamese peers to return to the States with them to attend the conference in San Diego, but says that she is uncertain whether or not they will be able to obtain visas in time. If not, she hopes that they will be able to come toward the end of the year.